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'We do big things'

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:47 p.m.

In his State of the Union address, a nearly 7,000 word speech, President Obama mentioned job or jobs in relation to work no fewer than a dozen times. Other than citing Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' empty chair, nothing was said about the guns and violence that kill 34 Americans each day.

But, most disconcertingly, no African-American or Hispanic was spotlighted during his acknowledgment of enterprising businessmen and women making their mark in the nation.

Nevertheless, the Commander-in-chief touched on some vital issues, made some firm promises, and generally keyed his remarks to a centrist tendency, with a resumption of the bipartisan mission on which he expended so much political capital during the first two years of his administration.

"Now, by itself," said Obama of America's collective spirit, "this simple recognition won't usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow. I believe we can. I believe we must."

He was clearly referring to those Democrats and Republicans who chose to sit next to each other rather than taking their customary positions on opposing sides of the aisle.

How long this temporary accord will last was to some extent presaged by Obama, who said, "We will argue about everything." Certainly health care, which the House, given its new majority of Republicans, voted to repeal, will be contested territory. How to close the deficit and the nation's accelerating debt, education and financial reform are also contentious items on a long agenda.

The nation and the media had been alerted that jobs and competitiveness would be at the center of his speech, and while he touched on both topics, the millions of unemployed probably craved a few more details about the process of finding a decent job.

"Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown," he reflected. "You didn't always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you'd have a job for life, with a decent paycheck, good benefits, and the occasional promotion. Maybe you'd even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company. That world has changed."

It has mainly changed because of outsourcing and automation, which has robbed America of its manufacturing base, and all the new and green technology may not be enough to stabilize our workforce since other nations such as China and India are leagues ahead, something Obama cited in passing.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry was pleased by his comments on work and issued the following statement. "Let's be clear, there is no greater investment in this country than getting Americans back to work. With nearly 30 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, we don't just have a jobs crisis, we have a jobs emergency. Tonight, President Obama issued a clear call to action to solve our jobs emergency. We need all Americans, Republicans and Democrats, business and labor, to work together to pave the road that working people, and our country, must walk to a stronger, more promising future."