Houston Chronicle Editorial 2/13/2012
State of the Union addresses are typically more political laundry list than poetry - remembered more often for the number of outbursts of largely partisan cheers and applause (and occasional boos) they arouse than the number of elegant phrases turned by the commander-in-chief.
Tuesday night's State of the Union Address by President Barack Obama, his fifth, was no exception. Obama's lengthy list included mentions of tax reform, Medicare, immigration, guns, troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, changes in the minimum wage, climate change, education and sequestration, as well as the recognition of several notables and heroes in the gallery.
Obama opened his remarks with a modified formulation of the pro forma pronouncement that the "State of the Union is strong." He said that "we have cleared away the rubble of crisis and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger."
Really, Mr. President?
Does anyone actually believe this is true? We certainly don't. Not when our politics are riven by partisan disagreement, our government is running unprecedented deficits that add up to a record national debt and our economy is puttering along at growth rates just above a stall.
"Stronger" isn't the modifier we would choose. Uncertain is more like it. Unemployment stands at 7.9 percent, exactly where it was when Barack Obama was sworn in for his first term in January 2009. Tens of millions of Americans remain unemployed, underemployed or have given up the search for jobs altogether.
State of the Union messages are not given in a vacuum. Obama's fifth one is set against the backdrop of an election victory that the president interprets as a mandate to move forward on causes close to his heart, including social justice, gun control and equality of opportunity; his Republican opponents look at the November results and see no such marching orders.
The whimsical language of the Clinton era applies more than ever: "It's still the economy, stupid." We were pleased to hear President Obama recognize jobs and the economy near the top of his speech and focus on employment and jobs, saying, "Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing."
And so it should be. We believe the most powerful "magnet" to attract new jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector, is reliable, affordable energy, of which this nation has a surpassing abundance. The president's acknowledgment of the central place of clean-burning fossil fuels, chiefly natural gas, in a dynamic economic recovery is a refreshing rhetorical change.
While we appreciate his interest in and advocacy for renewables, America's critical path to prosperity cannot wait a half century for alternative energy to achieve full potential. The framework of an energy policy, which he outlined Tuesday evening, must begin immediately with a war-footing-style commitment to use our great new national energy patrimony - natural gas from shale - to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and boost economic growth while increasing our national security and making our air cleaner. Let's begin a 21st-century Manhattan Project.
Since Obama was elected to the presidency in 2008, the domestic energy picture has shifted dramatically, and for the better. The chief reason, as Texans well understand, is the increased accessibility of shale gas made possible by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.
President Obama's commitment to equal economic opportunity is admirable and welcome. It mirrors the views of most Americans. But equality of opportunity will not be achieved if there are no opportunities for the tens of millions of Americans of every background who are unemployed.
As a second-term president, Barack Obama is entering the period in which his place in history will be decided. If our economy is stagnant for the next four years, his other achievements, whatever they may be, would be diminished by that failure.
We think the president said it well: "Now is the time to reach a new level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy."
Committing to such a strategy truly will forge a "stronger" America.