Obama: Would Love to Help the Middle Class, But Can He?

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Barack Obama’s weekly addresses are usually — though not always — something of a press op with very little meat in which to sink your political teeth. Read the headlines, and you’ve basically read the transcript. This week’s was no different, but it was a particularly problematic address in that it’s quite symbolic of a problem with American politics that’s becoming far too familiar: rhetoric for the sake of rhetoric.

His recurring subject matter is both indicative and representative of an overarching problem in Washington; politicians are in a rut, repetition does not lead to change. If it did, the subject matter would naturally be set aside and new issues would come up. First, let’s break down last week’s address in an honest assessment, and then we’ll count our nickels.

Dissecting the Address

President Obama starts off his August 2 address with references to his administration’s accomplishments, likely hoping boost his party’s success story in light of the constant criticism from the GOP. It makes sense that the administration needs to give a strong progress report before going to town on where the U.S. is economically and socially suffering. It’s anticipating the oft-heard blame. “Recovered,” in particular, is a buzzword, and describing the recession as something in the rear window is popular with the White House.

Next Obama quickly blocks in overarching themes, and here’s where things get familiar. He promises to make “sure our economy works for every working American,” which doubles as emphasis that Democrats aren’t too soft on welfare, and he wants  to make “sure that people who work hard can get ahead,” while also addressing middle-class Americans and pay. The president then puts in his plugs on legislation specifically: minimum wage increase, student loan reform, and “fair pay and paid leave” for women, and then rounding them all out nicely with the obligatory jab at Congress. “These policies have two things in common. All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure. And all of them have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress,” said Obama. Enter here the paragraph on the necessity of executive action because Congress went on vacation, and of course a nice mention of House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) lawsuit. So What’s the Significance?

If this was the first time we’d heard this song and dance, it would be very significant. It’s indicative of strong party discord as well as executive and legislative discord, it outlines the president’s plan and activity and highlights Democratic emphasis on student loans, women’s pay, and minimum wage. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time — far from it in fact.

It’s not that the goals outlined and the subject matter addressed aren’t important. This isn’t a criticism of Democratic goals and social concerns. I’m merely pointing out the diseased limb symptomatic of a diseased body. Most of the other limbs have sores and swellings as well. It goes without saying that commentary on all of the above items has been echoing around Washington D.C. for months and months. It’s just that the President’s weekly address offers a very simple and easily rifled through set of data to consider. And it quite clearly shows the groove political needles have been stuck in.

So, How Many Nickels Already?

Let’s see how many nickels we’d have between March 1 up through the last presidential address of August 2, give or take a few mentions I may have missed, or might not have counted if they aren’t too directly related in subject matter. We’ll look at Congressional mentions that are  negative or at least condescending, the “middle class,” equal pay/paid leave for women and men, and the minimum wage.

First, there are those attacks on Congress. Obama calls it ineffective, a critique usually followed by an assertion that the President’s own action is the only alternative. Sometimes these are direct, and sometimes they appear as simple claims to have “called on Congress” when it’s clear Republicans would never side with a particular initiative. We saw all of the above in July 12′s weekly address on “Expanding Opportunity — It’s Time for Congressional Republicans to Do Their Part,” as well as in March 15, March 22, March 29, April 5, April 26, May 3, May 17, May 31, June 7, June 28, and August 2. The middle class was mentioned from June 28′s “Focusing on the Economic Priorities for the Middle Class Nationwide” all up and through March 15, April 5, April 26, May 3, June 7, June 21, July 12, July 19, and July 26, and August 2. Equal pay and paid leave for women and men was mentioned March 15, March 22, March 29, April 12, May 3, June 14, June 21, June 28, July 12, July 19, and August 2. The minimum wage was mentioned March 22, March 29, April 5, April 12, April 26, May 3, June 14, June 28, and July 19.

That’s about $2.10; enough to buy a travel size bottle of Advil for that nasty headache Washington can give us. It’s enough to buy a KitKat bar, and take a break from both Democrats and Republicans; in the case of Congress the break is mandatory, given the current recess. It’s enough to buy these earplugs; look, they’re orange and come with a conveniently attached string.

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