If we needed a reminder as to the greatness of our country, we had to look no further than our televisions or computer screens Tuesday night. Two men of modest beginnings—born to immigrant fathers, and both with a personal drive to excel beyond their station in life—took center stage to discuss the “state of our union” and offer their competing visions to make our nation stronger.
As the son of immigrants myself, I will put political opinions aside and gladly admit that watching Barack Obama and Marco Rubio offer contrasting policies and battling over ideas was not only a fulfillment of what our political system ought to be, but the achievement of an American ideal.
The president, however, did not live up to the history of the moment and offered a brutally uninspiring address. The address seemed to generate excitement only when the president was discussing issues unrelated to the economy and job creation -- two areas which were supposed to comprise the central themes of the speech.
In a room down the hall from the House chamber where the president spoke, Florida Republican Senator Rubio confirmed why he tops the list for 2016 presidential contenders.
His rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address offered a powerful contrast between Mr. Obama’s message of government reliance to his message of self-reliance.
A political debate framed as a choice between opportunity versus dependency is the terrain Republicans can and must win on to reassert ourselves as what Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp cheerfully described as the Party of “Hope, Growth and Opportunity” for all Americans. Senator Rubio moved us back in that direction tonight.
For President Obama, this first State of the Union address since winning re-election is the one in which he held more political capital than at any other time in his second term. Therefore, it was disappointing to see him repeat much of what we have heard in his speeches during his first four years, albeit with added agenda items like gun control and immigration reform. He reminded us once again that he wants to build a strong middle class, invest in infrastructure, clean energy and education, raise taxes on the rich, and use further government spending to stimulate a stalled economy.
However, in making the case for greater government spending, higher taxation and less reliance on the private sector to helping economic recovery, the president rejects the most proven and effective policies for job creation and economic growth: lower taxes, a balanced budget and limited government. Even President Bill Clinton recognized these principles as a formula for success during his second term.
As was so eloquently stated by Senator Marco Rubio in his rebuttal, “strengthening the middle class” is a goal Republicans share with the president.
While Republicans believe that helping the middle class is best accomplished by creating a rising tide of economic growth, Democrats insist on “top-down” central planning that can never distribute wealth as effectively as a vibrant free enterprise system with limited interference from Washington.
President Obama’s refusal fundamental misunderstanding of this point is why our economy, on the night of his fourth State of the Union address, remains in decline with confidence among America’s small business owners and taxpayers back under water according to both a National Federation of Independent Business survey just released and a Fox News poll taken earlier this month.
Stronger economic growth is the best way to address our nation’s crippling fiscal challenges without balancing the budget on the back of hard-working taxpayers, who are already burdened by the most progressive tax system and complicated tax code in the industrial world.
While President Obama’s speech was delivered through his leftist-oriented world view, Senator Rubio’s speech was delivered through the prism of his own life experience. Almost any American who dreams of leaving our country stronger for the next generation can relate to Rubio's vision. This was most prominent when he discussed entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, and pressed for a balanced budget to address ballooning debt and deficits that have accelerated in the last four years.
Despite our obvious and potentially daunting differences on display Tuesday night, there are still opportunities to find common ground on issues of great importance. Comprehensive immigration reform, promoting medical and technological research, creating manufacturing jobs through an expansion of our energy sector, and finally addressing the crisis created by uninhibited entitlement spending will all require a bipartisan consensus.
Both President Obama and Senator Rubio did a respectful job in their speeches Tuesday night, in recognizing the valor and service of our military personnel and acknowledging the importance of working together to solve our nation’s problems. But it seemed as if President Obama received a needed lesson from Senator Rubio in the values that compel Americans to greatness, and one that is consistent with his own life’s journey.
In America, we live out a vision of those who created a land in which you were not defined by where you started your life but what you did with it. Where ensuring individual liberty meant that a person was in charge of his or her own destiny, not the state.
Tuesday night’s speeches are a vivid reminder of why America is “the land of opportunity,” where everybody has a chance to achieve the promise of the American Dream and where everybody has the audacity to hope for a better life.