One Tuesday Night Minus the Popcorn

by Nelia Dingcong Bernabe
January 31, 2011
So, did you watch President Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday? What did you think? Did you walk away from it reassured or did the sinking feeling that you’ve stoically kept in place for a while now spiral into the abyss?

Reactions have been mixed and mine are no exception. Truthfully though, I listened with reverence and decided that I would believe in the President even before he took the stand. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt even when I believed his speech, like most other speeches, would be laced with the usual rhetoric, hollow promises, and wonderful sounding words.

He did not disappoint on those counts. I love the new battle cry: This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Ra…ra…ra! You go, Mr. President! He went on to say that, “We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

Again, reactions are mixed. Countless new jobs? Define countless. New jobs? Hmmm…new as in re-invent ourselves new or new as in resurrecting old positions that have sat idly for couple years due to layoffs.

The President acknowledged in his speech that the world has changed. My reaction? No kidding! Well I am sure he knew that all along and stating the obvious sometimes drives the painful truth even deeper in case you’re oblivious to the goings-on of the world. If you detect a tinge of sarcasm on the last part, you’re right!

Don’t get me wrong. I voted for President Obama. I also know that his administration inherited a heap-load of problems and he came at a time when this economy is at its worst. I am patient and I wish and pray that he succeeds in turning America and what ails her around. While he was out campaigning prior to the 2008 presidential elections, I relished everything that he said on the campaign trail. Rhetoric or not, I believed in him and what he can do for this country.

But like the President said, the world has changed. America is a different country now…to some extent. Life is more challenging for millions of Americans. The economic landscape of this country is teetering and showing signs of wear and tear while emerging economies like China and India are poising themselves to even out the global playing field.

When President Obama said that the future is ours to win and to get there, we can’t just stand still, that made me cringe a little bit. I thought about the millions of Americans lining up at the unemployment office to file their papers for the first time or file their extensions. I thought about the homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure after losing their jobs, after being furloughed, or after having their hours at work reduced. I thought about the people who used to have high paying jobs but could not even find any part-time work in this economy. These people are not “just standing still.” They are out there every day struggling to just make it. They are our family, our relatives, our friends, our former coworkers, our acquaintances, and our neighbors. These are real people who do not simply stand idle and do nothing.

I agree with the president when he said that, “sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat” and “it has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.” I think the American people understand and get that. Telling the millions who are without jobs to sacrifice, to struggle, and to meet the demands of our new America is again stating the obvious. How much more sacrificing and struggling are expected of them?

But behind the dark clouds is a silver lining. According to the president, we are poised for progress. He said that two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Quickly, the day after the president’s speech, it was reported that Dow traded above 12,000 points for the first time since June 2008. That’s great news, isn’t it? He also said that corporate profits are up and the economy is growing again.

With the silver lining comes a new slogan – Win the Future! Quoting Robert Kennedy, President Obama said, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” He said that Americans need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world, we need to make America the best place on Earth to do business, and we need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. I’m thinking he’s on his own on the last one…

With the new slogan comes the real work. Roll up your sleeves and down the trenches we go. The president’s speech focused on three steps in winning the future: American innovation, education, and rebuilding America. It’s admirable to have an action plan and let the American people know that their government is there for them. But I can’t seem to shake off the uneasy feeling that everything sounded like mumbo jumbo. I kept thinking about the deficit and how much we owe China. How does freezing domestic spending for five years alleviate the dire situation now? How can one suggest rebuilding, going into clean energy, and making new jobs available to Americans when we owe so much money? Ahhhh…this is way too complicated.

Let me go back to that silver lining. President Obama said we are better than anyone when it comes to sparking the creativity and imagination of our people; we are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; and we are the nation of Edison, the Wright Brothers, Google, and Facebook.

True. And hope springs eternal. America, through all her challenges and weaknesses at a time when the global world is shrinking, is still the only country in the entire face of this planet where one can dream big dreams and actually see those dreams become a reality. One thing will never change. It’s only a matter of time and the tide will shift. This country will flourish once again and her people’s pride will be fully restored. After all, this is America, a country whose people do big things.

With that, the State of the Union address of the president comes to an end and boy, I forgot to grab my popcorn from the microwave. Darn, maybe next time!

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