#4: “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, our mothers, our daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Womenís Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. And I now urge the House to do the same. [...]
“And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a — a living equal to their efforts and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.”
Obama once again made women’s rights a key part of his address, calling on Congress to pass VAWA and the Paycheck Fairness Act. The move was not just obviously right — only a Republican could oppose keeping women from being abused, or making sure people get equal pay for equal work — but it was a nice political shot at the man giving the Republican Response to the State of the Union, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio voted against VAWA early Tuesday, and then had the audacity to go on national television Tuesday night, making his case against Obama. By highlighting both VAWA and his vice president’s role in crafting it, Obama reminded women and those who care about women that Republicans are simply not on their side.
Karma being what it is, Rubio’s speech will be remembered most for his weird water gulping. I know that his bout of cottonmouth was probably not divinely inspired, but on the off chance it was, I salute whichever higher power is responsible.
#5: “[T]oday, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief weíve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. Thatís wrong. Thatís why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.
“Tonight, letís declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty — and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.”
No, $9 an hour isn’t going to make anyone rich. Even working full-time, it’s just $18,720 a year. It’s not quite a living wage. Still, it’s a heck of a lot better than the $7.25 an hour it’s sitting at today. Moreover, Obama proposed adding an automatic cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage, so that it keeps pace with inflation. That’s nothing to sneeze at; if 1968′s minimum wage had been indexed to inflation, the minimum wage today would be $10.51 an hour.
We should push to have the minimum wage raised to a living wage level, but for now, it’s a big step forward to have a president advocating a minimum wage that’s above the poverty line.
#6: “It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence, but this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around commonsense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. [...]
“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.”
This is a case where the text cannot do justice to a speech’s delivery. Obama issued a direct challenge to Republicans and pro-NRA Democrats, demanding an up-or-down vote on gun control measures. He demanded it not in his name, but “because in the two months since Newtown,†more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”
Obama cited some of the victims — 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton; former Rep. Gabby Giffords, R-Ariz.; the victims of mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. After each, Obama repeated that these victims deserved a vote — and by the end of the sequence, a number of others were repeating it with him.
Moreover, Obama didn’t demand passage of all legislation. He told Congress, “If you want to vote no, thatís your choice.” That’s as much a sign that things have changed since Newtown as anything. A year ago, most pro-gun legislators would have welcomed the chance to vote against gun regulations. Now, Obama is telling them that he won’t let them kill legislation in the dead of night.
#7: “We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When Desiline arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. And hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her, because Desiline is 102 years old.
“And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, ‘I Voted.’”
This was a great moment simply because of the presence of Desiline Victor in the chambers. I don’t know about you, but I’m incredibly impressed by a 22-year-old willing to wait six hours to vote. For a centenarian to do so is remarkable. What’s more, it’s obscene — there’s no reason that anybody should have to take an entire day to vote. Victor is an African American from Florida; the long wait was not accidental. Republicans have been trying with all their might to keep non-white voters from voting. I’m grateful that Desiline Victor refused to let them, and I’m mortified that she had to do so.
Image Credit: White House
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