The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Democrats must act

As many of us are aware, a few weeks ago, President Obama delivered his first State of the Union address. Thankfully, President Obama’s speech went more civilly than his last address to a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union is often seen as a time when the president can define the debate, and this time was no exception. While a great deal of media coverage over the past year has been about the health-care debate and proposed reform, President Obama was able to, at least briefly, draw attention to other issues. Some of these issues are ones that many Republicans would not like the public to know about, and they refuse to give Obama credit for. For example, the Obama administration has created tax cuts for many Americans, specifically those making less than $250,000 a year.

Among the more important issues that Obama raised during the State of the Union address were a recent Supreme Court decision, the state of affairs in Congress and a spending freeze to help lower the deficit.

The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled 5-4 that, under the First Amendment, corporations now have the right to contribute to political campaigns as much money as they want. The majority in this ruling claims that corporations qualify as people and, as Obama pointed out, they have overturned a century of regulations when it comes to campaign financing.

This decision is a grave threat to our democracy and Obama’s remarks on this matter drew a response from Justice Alito, who shook his head and mouthed something to the president as soon as it was mentioned. Such responses are not expected from members of the Supreme Court.

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One of the most surprising moments during the State of the Union came when Obama mentioned a spending freeze on nonessential government activities that would begin in 2011. This move would be meant to help lower the federal deficit, which has gotten into the amount of more than $1 trillion recently.

Of course, defense spending and programs like Medicare and Medicaid would not be affected by the spending freeze. This is an unexpected move coming from a Democratic president, but the last time the budget was balanced and we had a surplus was under Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The best moments of the State of the Union were when President Obama called out both Republican and Democratic members of Congress on their actions, or lack of actions. Many in the public have trouble believing that Congress has their best interests at heart, and Obama’s words showed that he understands the people’s frustrations.

The Republican Party, since the 2008 elections, has done very little in the way of performing their jobs. Republican senators and congressmen have been doing next to nothing in terms of lawmaking. What they have been doing is obstructing every initiative and proposal made by Democratic lawmakers or President Obama. The president called on Republicans, particularly those in the Senate, to take their responsibilities seriously and begin leading the American people instead of simply trying to score short-term political points.

Concerning Democrats in Congress, President Obama reminded them that, despite the loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts, the Democrats still hold a sizable majority in both houses of Congress, larger than any Democratic majority has been in past decades. Congressional Democrats seem to be suffering from a lack of determination and the grit to get things done, but they are able to emphasize the desire for bipartisan lawmaking to the point that proposals like health care reform get watered down to the point that it is nowhere near comprehensive.

Democrats need to remember the size of their majority in Congress, and that the American people elected them to lead this country, not desperately cling to their seats.

America needs leadership, and it was good to see Obama get tough on Congress, letting the conciliatory tone drop at least for one night.

Congressional Democrats seem to scare too easily, while Republicans have become the party of ‘no.’

President Obama has tried to gain bipartisan support for his proposals, including health-care reform, but Republicans seem to be more concerned with defeating Obama and the Democrats than actually governing. Obama correctly pointed out that saying no to every proposal is not leadership, and it is not what the American people want.

That moment of the speech is what America needs more of. Obama, and Democrats in Congress, need to use their

majority to pass legislation to help this country. Bipartisanship is an admirable goal, but now that it has failed. Democrats need to get down to business and pass laws without worrying about what Republicans will accept. Obama spoke of many initiatives in his speech: energy, education and health care. What he needs to do now is move on them.

It never sounds good for a great many proposals to be made, but with all of the rejections, this seems to worry Democrats because of the constant threat of filibuster in the Senate by Republicans.

Democrats would need to move energetically on a wide variety of subjects to show their desire to help the American people. If Republicans would do nothing but block all these initiatives, as they seem to be doing already, they would be the target of the American people’s frustrations with Washington. Republicans would then lose seats in Congress instead of Democrats when election season comes around again.

Democrats need to push forward past the protests by Republicans. President Obama spoke during his speech of wanting to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and Admiral Mike Mullen has made his personal support for gays serving openly in the military clear in front of members of Congress. Republicans will protest and obstruct as long as they are in office.

Democrats just need to learn to ignore them unless they actually return to the practice of governing again. Democrats have been compromising too much while the Republican Party seems to have forgotten that there is such a concept as compromise, something that is very important in a democracy.

President Obama concluded his speech by stating that he is hopeful for the future of our country. It often seems hard to be hopeful with so many issues confronting the president while Congress is having difficulty getting things done, but it is good to see our president undaunted by the task at hand, because that is why he was elected.

Obama was elected to lead America in a different direction, and hopefully he will do that by working with Congress to pass the legislation that America needs to move into the times ahead.

VanDeLaarschot, a sophomore world politics major, is a guest columnist for The Spectator

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Democrats must act