The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 28, 2014

The state of the union can be fixed

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The state of the union.

President Obama gave us his take on it Tuesday night, speaking to a joint session of Congress, his political friends and foes, as well as the nation as a whole.

He talked about economic opportunity, a higher minimum wage, immigration reform and expanded pre-school education. He talked about the economic recovery that seems to have left so many Americans behind.

The president is optimistic about the state of the union. He has to be, it’s part of the job description.

But many Americans are anything but.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 68 percent of Americans said the country is either stagnant or worse off since the president took office.

We don’t feel good about ourselves right now. Only 28 percent of those polled said the country is headed in the right direction.

Conversely, 63 percent say America is on the wrong track and 70 percent are unhappy with the state of the U.S. economy.

The American people, it seems, are tired. We are tired of a Congress that spends much of its time engaged in partisan politics, looking out for party and self first, the good of the country a distant second.

We are tired of an economic recovery that seems to have bypassed ordinary Americans. The stock market and gross domestic product have rebounded, but many of us are still feeling the pinch in our pocket books.

Among the words respondents to the poll used to describe their take on the state of the union were “nervous,” “disaster,” “increased debt,” “declining economy,” “concerned,” “uncertain,” and “hard times.”

We want our country to be great again, but we don’t think it is. Many of us feel our best days are behind us.

Unfortunately, if we continue to believe our best days are behind us, they probably are.

America is still the most powerful nation in the world and has the No. 1 economy on the planet. We are a country of doers, explorers, innovators, hard workers.

To get our economy going again is going to take effort and sacrifice. Perhaps it is time for some of the chief executive officers at our nation’s top companies to take a hard look at their own compensation packages compared with those of the people actually doing the real work in their firms.

General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt made $25.8 million in 2012. What if he tightened his belt and tried to scrape by on, say, $20 million per annum, choosing instead to use that extra $5.8 million to raise the pay of his employees?

Walmart boss Michael Duke brought home $20.6 million in 2012. What if his pay were cut to, say, $14 million, with that extra $6 mil plus spread around among the company’s many associates?

I heard an economist say recently that the only way to really get the American economy going again was for company executives to take less for themselves and put more money in the pockets of their employees, who then would spend more money at places like Walmart, purchasing General Electric products, thus putting more money into our economy.

No matter how much it hurts we’ve got to stop spending more money than we bring in. We’ve got to get a handle on our debt and rein in spending, and for that, we’re going to need Congress and the president to pull together rather than threaten to pull the country apart.

We need to ensure our entitlement programs provide a temporary safety net for those who are going through tough times, not a hammock for those who are content to live on the government dole.

We’ve got to make education our No. 1 priority. That means putting more money into our schools and making sure our children have an education that will prepare them for life in an ever-changing world, not simply getting them ready to take achievement tests.

And parents have to be parents again, taking an active role in their children’s education, not simply looking at public schools as baby sitters with recess and report cards.

We need to encourage and reward innovation and entrepreneurship, and we have to make sure the government is paving the way for Americans to succeed, not blocking the road with crippling regulations.

Of course we can’t simply let big business do whatever it chooses. The government must still be in the business of serving the people, not simply the people contributing the most to their campaigns.

We need to stop worrying so much about the Affordable Care Act. It is the law, like it or not, and the politicians should stop spending all their time trying to undermine or eliminate it. If the ACA went away today, would everything suddenly be hunky dory?

We can’t reward people from sneaking into this country illegally, but likewise, we can’t punish their children for simply coming along for the ride.

We have to expect more from ourselves and from our leaders. We have to send a message to those we have elected to represent us that we are tired of the status quo and we expect a change.

And we have to stop whining about how bad everything is in this country. As bad as they seem to be here, things are way worse in many parts of the globe.

The best news is, if any country in the world can pull itself out of the doldrums in which we seem to be mired, it is the United States.

But nobody’s going to do it for us. It is something we must do for ourselves.

It it high time we set about doing it.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.