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Patty Craig: A Slice of Time

I, like many of you, watched the State of the Union address last week. Many of us may take this report for granted and grumble a bit about the interruption of regular television programming. According to Bill Carter (New York Times), the January 25th State of the Union address had a decline in viewers compared to previous years. I was not surprised.

Wikipedia describes the State of the Union address as an annual speech the President makes to the Congress. The address reports on the condition of the nation and allows the president to outline his legislative agenda as well as his national priorities. Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 speech was the first to be broadcast on radio; Harry Truman’s 1947 speech was the first to be broadcast on television; Lyndon Johnson’s speech was the first be delivered in the evening; and Bill Clinton’s 1997 speech was the first to be broadcast on the World Wide Web. In 1968, television networks in the U.S. decided to impose no time limit on their coverage of a State of the Union address (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_the_Union_address). We may see the speeches grow in length.

One of the president’s points in the 2012 address was that Congress should change our tax code so that wealthy people, like the President and many members of Congress, pay their fair share of taxes. He gave the example that Warren Buffett (the third wealthiest person in the world as of 2011) pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, Debbie Bosanek (a guest in first lady Michelle Obama’s box of seats). The president’s request to Congress to change the tax code so that wealthy Americans pay a higher tax rate has been called the “Buffett rule.” Obama walks tightrope in SOTU address

The Buffett rule – which was developed after the billionaire investor said he paid a lower effective tax rate than his secretary – is one component of Obama’s economic plan. The president said, “Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. …Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than a million dollars a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes…. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year -- like 98 percent of American families -- your taxes shouldn’t go up” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/state-of-the-union-2012-obama-spe...).

Another point President Obama made was that many Americans have lost confidence in Washington’s ability to make necessary changes. He said, “The greatest blow to our confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control. It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not…. I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad, and it seems to get worse every year. Now, some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow. Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact. Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa, an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/state-of-the-union-2012-obama-spe...).

The State of the Union address included several other points, but these two resonated with me. I believe the decline in viewers for the State of the Union address is directly related to our society’s growing distrust of Washington politics. The problem is that no one elected to Washington – no matter how noble his or her belief system – seems able to make the necessary difference. As others before me have said, “Evil flourishes when good people do nothing.”

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