“What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.” With that declaration, President Barack Obama delivered another ringing call to action, devoting nearly all of his February 24 address to a joint session of Congress to what the country needs to do to rebuild and recover. The 52-minute speech was interrupted 50 times by applause.
Declaring that the country’s agenda “begins with jobs,” Obama thanked Congress for passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he said will save or create 3.5 million jobs, more than 90 percent in the private sector, and will give tax cuts to 95 percent of working households. He insisted on the importance of re-starting lending and promised more stringent oversight of bailouts to banks.
Turning from plans for recovery to a vision for the future, Obama said the nation has three priorities:
Energy: “[T]o truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.” that means transformation of the auto industry, as well as doubling the nation’s supply of renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency.
Health Care: “[T]he cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.”
Education: Obama called the mismatch between fast-growing occupation sectors that require education and “the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation,” a “prescription for economic decline, because we know that countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” He called for both increased funding and reform, gave a ringing endorsement to the charter school movement, and warned that “dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”
Minneapolis got a mention: “There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make. “
President Obama held up a banker, a student, and a town as examples of hope:
• “Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. “
• “Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community.”
• Ty’Sheoma Bethea, a student from a South Carolina school “where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.” She sent a letter to Congress asking for help, writing: “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.”
Echoing her words, Obama said that Americans are not quitters, that “even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.”