President Obama's State of the Union address was one of the best in recent history, not judging by the number of applauses and ovations, but by the content. Sometimes it's the lack of applause from parts of the audience that are most telling. The President mentioned the lack of troops in Iraq for the first time in years, and referred to a system where "everyone plays by the same rules," a clear reference to corporate misbehavior, income inequality, and other issues in the spotlight due to the Occupy movement. He discussed the most important issue to me in politics and society: "The corrosive influence of money in politics."
After being disgusted and appalled with the content of the Republican Presidential debates over recent months, I liked Obama's speech and responded positively at first. But that didn't last long. My skepticism returned quickly, smothering my optimism like the Patriot Act smothers civil liberties. I remembered that President Obama has shown himself to be at the mercy of the same corporate interests that govern Washington DC.
I remembered discussing on The David Pakman Show that President Obama will accept his Democratic nomination for President at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, later this year. I understand that any venue large enough to house the event will probably have a corporate name attached to it, but I can't help feeling soured at the involvement of Bank of America in a key moment of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Is the next step in corporate political entanglement -- "Now presenting Citibank's candidate for President?"
The broader question: "Is President Obama also in bed with the same corporate interests that many in the Democratic Party claim to oppose?" The answer: Yes.
Next were taxes. Just hours after candidate Mitt Romney released two years of tax returns, President Obama, said in his SOTU address that no one making over $1 million per year should be paying less than 30% in taxes. This was the strongest part of President Obama's speech -- including himself in the discussion -- arguing that "people like him" who don't need tax breaks and can afford to pay more will not stimulate the economy if their taxes are decreased.
Looking at Mitt Romney's tax returns was disturbing, not at all because he's a rich guy who makes a lot of money from investments, but because listening to his speeches during the campaign gave a very different and false story of his employment, income, and fiscal policy hypocrisy. Romney stated to a group of unemployed people on the campaign trail that he, like them, is also unemployed. He later said that he hasn't really been working, but made "not too much" money from speaking as a side job last year. It turned out that the speaking fees amounted to $529,000 in 2010, many times the average yearly income for people who work for a living. Mitt Romney is out of touch, and his taxes confirm this.
In 2010, Mitt Romney made $21.7 million, and paid 13.9% taxes, a lower rate than many middle class Americans. It's even lower than many wealthy people pay. Mitt Romney made more in a day than the average American makes in a year. Both Romney's own tax plan and Newt Gingrich's would reduce his taxes even more, by as much as 50%. This is a problem.
The issue of Romney's taxes is not about him making a lot of money, but about fairness and being in touch with the problems of middle- and lower-class voters, something Romney is no more in touch with than a jockey is with a basketball rim. During a recent Republican debate, Romney and Gingrich were arguing with each other about who made LESS money from their businesses -- something altogether confusing given that Republican voters supposedly LIKE rich and successful people and their stories. Romney knows he has reason to understate his wealth.
Gingrich, the second realistic Republican contender at this point, has his own problems, but he successfully managed to bamboozle the Republican voters of South Carolina, who are self-described as very Evangelical and placing much importance on so-called "family values," into voting for him -- the serial adulterer who asked his second ex-wife for an open marriage -- over Romney, who has been married to the same woman for over 40 years. Bizarre.
I wish I felt better about Democratic politicians over Republican politicians when it comes to corporate influence, but in the end, a recent news story reminded me why I will vote for President Obama this November. The headline read "Politician's cat killed and spray-painted with a message," and it wasn't even necessary to check the political party of the victim. You know it's a Democrat, and you know the perpetrator is a conservative. While there may not be much difference between the politicians in each Party, there's a big difference between the world views of the voters, and for a progressive independent like me, that warrants a Democratic vote this fall.