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A Message from the Chair: Barak Obama’s Vision for America’s Future

Dr. Mohammed Kaiseruddin, CIOGC Chair
February 2016

The parting words, the last wish and the will and testament of a person are always considered worthy of attention, as they may reflect the purest of intentions and involve no personal gains. So the eighth and final State of the Union speech of President Obama deserves our attention, both for what was said and what remained unsaid. Not to be ignored are the expectations that the speech was to highlight his accomplishments and that he will continue to play a role in our policies for years to come.

It was heartening to hear him mention first the criminal justice reform as a goal in his remaining year in office. Thousands of those who are currently incarcerated deserve a better chance and another opportunity.

As his long term vision for America, President Obama highlighted four questions that the Nation needs to answer as a collective:

How do we give everyone a fair chance at opportunity and security in this new economy?

The challenges we experience in the job market come from the advances in technology (automation) and the globalization of the workforce (exporting of jobs). As a result, Mr. Obama said, “more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.” The solutions he suggested – relevant education, two years of college at no cost to responsible students and more voice to the workers – do address the issues of jobs and security, but fail to truly address the growing wealth and income disparity.

How do we make technology work for us, and not against us?

Citing a little bit of American exceptionalism, Mr. Obama said we should continue to lead the world in innovation. He proposed a major medical initiative, saying: “let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.” Further, while ridiculing those who still question global warming and climate change, he said, “…even if the planet wasn’t at stake … why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policemen?

Mr. Obama asserted emphatically that America is the most powerful nation on earth, as he said, “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.” He observed that we are threatened less by evil empires and more by failed states. He described the campaign against ISIL quite elaborately. Creditably, he cited the fight against Ebola and a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear concerns as his foreign policy successes. Taking aim at the growing political rhetoric against Muslims, Mr. Obama said, “When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

How can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.” Mr. Obama also addressed the money that is corrupting politics, the need to make it easier to vote, and in his words “…to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.”

Issues that remained unsaid

There was only one sentence concerning the atrocities underway in Syria and another sentence concerning turmoil in the Middle East. There was no mention of the plight of Palestinians. These are issues that remained unsaid in Mr. Obama’s speech. We should be showing more concern and resolve in addressing those situations considering that millions of people are affected and our country has had a role in causing the deaths and destruction in the region. Further, we continue to be the biggest supplier of arms to the area. When it comes to accepting refugees from Syria, we are lagging behind most of the European countries.

Regarding our huge military spending, although he said: “the world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith,” he did not propose diverting some of the military spending towards social agenda.