Obama: Confidence builder, solution creator

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:36 p.m.

In a very measured, somber tone, President Barack Obama delivered his first address before a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening in the House of Representatives, and those assembled got their share of exercise, rising often to applaud what essentially was more explanation of his recovery plan.

Right from the beginning, about four paragraphs into his speech, the president laid out the theme for the evening: "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

That emergence and that strength, Obama insisted, would come from the combined results of the American people. "The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation," he said. "The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.

"Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure," Obama continued. "What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."

At the top of his overall agenda, Obama explained, was providing jobs for the American people. But at the core of his economic plan, the focus was on energy, healthcare and education, and he took time to describe in clear terms how he planned to address these pressing issues. "We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century," he asserted. "And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea."

Obama said he will not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders. "And I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again," he said to a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.

There was more thunderous applause when he addressed the crushing cost of healthcare. "This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds," Obama said. "By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages.

And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it's one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget. Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put healthcare reform on hold." On the issue of education, Obama was equally passionate and assertive. "Right now," he said, "three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.