There is more power available to people to affect change on the local level than there is on the national level. The right-wing knows this, and that's why they have been content to field pretty horrible candidates for president over the last couple of election cycles (that George W. Bush beat Al Gore was some sort of fluke).
The State of the Union is little more than a public relations press conference in which the president rattles off unattainable policy goals, wraps them around the occasional banal and easily achievable public policy tidbits and blames the other side for the administration's failure to achieve the unattainable goals the POTUS talked about in the previous year's presser. If I watch these things at all, it's only to argue with the television about whatever is being said and to imagine what horrible noises the "other" side is going to make about all the "radical" things being said from the dais. Tuesday night's State of the Union was no exception.
President Barack Obama's push for a limited public retirement fund, his continued talk about "energy independence," and dead-horse use of Guantánamo Bay as some sort of ultra-liberal talking point caused me to roll my eyes so many times I am now able to change lanes without checking my rearview mirror. But there was one brief moment in the speech that came out of nowhere. It genuinely surprised me.
And it happened about two-thirds of the way through Obama's address, a time when all but the most caffeinated members of the audience were hoping they wouldn't be caught dozing by television cameras. During the section of the speech dedicated to raising the minimum wage — again, not a terribly radical or progressive idea — President Obama said, "To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don't have to wait for Congress to act. Americans will support you if you take this on."
At that moment, the president completely sidestepped the do-nothing Congress he was talking to — not to mention the never-ending cadre of business leaders and financial gurus ensconced in the government he takes advice from — and encouraged legislative action at the state and local level to boost wages immediately. In short, he took a page from the right-wing playbook, which has allowed the GOP to get as many people onto local councils and boards and into statehouses in order to pass deleterious garbage concerning abortion restrictions, the assault on unions, and the dismantling of the public school system under the banner of "choice."
And it brings up a point that I have touched on before in this column: there is more power available to people to affect change on the local level than there is on the national level. The right-wing knows this, and that's why they have been content to field pretty horrible candidates for president over the last couple of election cycles (that George W. Bush beat Al Gore was some sort of fluke). President Obama knows it, too, and he is certainly aware that he can no longer rely on Congress for anything and is willing to use executive orders to do what he can. What he can't do himself, he will get local progressives to do.
Hopefully, the good people of "liberal" Charleston will get behind the president and challenge Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., along with the area's other mayors, to ask their respective city councils to pass minimum wage increases. While I'd certainly like to see those laws aimed much higher than the new wage standards, I'm willing to accept that measure as a stepping stone in the fight against income inequality and a ridiculously unbalanced economy. After all, according to a 2013 Post and Courier article, Charleston's tourist economy brought in almost $3.6 billion to the area last year, and it's a safe bet that more of that money could be shifted to the people who work every day to make this town so attractive to tourists and less to the developers and owners who have never set foot in the Holy City.