God's Politics

Tuesday evening, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union speech. He is expected to address challenges and policy proposals facing our country. Here is what I would like to hear the president say:

I have a vision for the United States of America this evening. It is an America safe and secure, at peace with our neighbors in the world community. An America where every person able to work is productively working and able to support a family while building assets for their future. An America where every person has access to affordable healthcare, a secure roof over their heads, adequate food to eat, and a quality education. An America where immigrants from other countries are welcomed in an orderly way that allows them to become productive members of our society. I also have a vision for our world. It is a world where no child dies for lack of food and medicine. A world where strong multinational institutions protect human rights and economic justice.

It’s a vision first proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah:

No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old
person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years
will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be
considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant
vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they
shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of
my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall
not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity …

While keeping that vision as our goal, this session of Congress has the opportunity to take a number of real and concrete steps toward its accomplishment.

Making work work. I applaud the House for its bipartisan vote to increase the minimum wage, and urge the Senate to quickly do the same. But that action, important though it is, is only a first step toward guaranteeing that those who are working full time are able to support their families. I believe that all those who work responsibly should have a living family income in which a combination of a family’s earnings, with supports for transportation, health care, nutrition, child care, education, housing, and other basic needs together provide a decent standard of living. This requires creative thinking about work supports, as well as tax policies that reward work and family stability, ownership and asset creation, job training, and financial education. I urge Congress to appoint a bipartisan joint committee to hold hearings and recommend appropriate legislation.

Insure all our kids. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program has been a remarkable success in providing health coverage to children living in poverty. The program is up for Congressional reauthorization this year, and I urge the Congress to promptly do so. But despite that success, more than 8 million children still lack insurance. The Congress should also enact the necessary legislation to expand the program so that all eligible children are covered. Ensuring quality health care for all our children is an important step toward lifting them out of poverty and to a better future. It is a significant part of the commitment I have made to reduce the number of children in poverty by half in the next 10 years. And for all Americans who need health insurance, our states are taking the lead in developing new approaches and innovative programs. We will examine those, and using the best ideas, propose a program that guarantees universal health insurance that will benefit every American.

Comprehensive immigration reform. I urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that is both compassionate and just. It is important to make our borders secure and enforce our nation’s laws, but we should do so in humane and realistic ways. Immigration policies should establish a dignified guest worker program that can lead to citizenship. Those individuals and families who are already living in the U.S. and working hard should have the option to apply for permanent legal status and citizenship if they choose to do so, by meeting specific application criteria. We must transcend a narrow debate about walls and fences to foster better dialogue about the root causes of immigration. Comprehensive immigration reform can be pro-work and pro-family, and create opportunities to strengthen the common good of families and employers and the vitality of America.

Abortion. I support the creation of a culture of life that advances the dignity and equality of women, protects and defends the vulnerable unborn, and promotes a consistent and healthy sexual ethic, especially for teens and young adults. I therefore support approaches that reduce abortions, incorporate reasonable restrictions, and promote policies that reduce unintended pregnancies, increase adequate health care for women, and reform adoption and foster care so that they are viable options for women who want to carry children to term. There is no one solution for reducing abortions in America. Therefore, we need a strategy employing multiple approaches that results in a reasonable, comprehensive strategy to effectively lower our abortion rate. Several bills toward that end have already been introduced in Congress, and I will support these efforts.

In our world, major crises also demand our attention.

The war in Iraq. After nearly four years of war, the violence in Iraq is increasing rather than decreasing. Rather than an escalated war with additional troops, I will accept the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and begin “new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts … that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.” As a first step, I pledge that there will be no permanent American military bases in Iraq, the U.S. will make no unique claim on Iraqi oil, and that we will substantially fund the re-building of Iraq, working with the international community. I will ask Secretary-General Ban and the U.N. Security Council to convene a conference of all countries in the region, specifically including Iran and Syria, to agree on measures to stabilize Iraq’s political and security future. The war should never have been started, and it has gone on long enough. We must find a way to reverse course.

Genocide in Darfur. Here too, violence increases as hundreds of thousands of people have been massacred and millions more turned into refugees. Only a large and strong multi-national peacekeeping force, with the authority (in the words of the U.N. Security Council) “to use all necessary means … to prevent attacks and threats against civilians,” will end the genocide. I will ask the Secretary of State to apply the maximum possible political and diplomatic pressure to force Sudan to accept such a force, including gaining the cooperation of other key Security Council nations. We will take strong economic action against Sudan and personally against top government officials, including initiating and rigorously enforcing sanctions. If necessary, we will discuss with the Security Council stronger actions that could include a no-fly zone over Darfur and a possible naval blockade. Enough is enough – if the government of Sudan will not stop the killing, we will lead the international community in doing so.

Iran. I will continue to work to ensure that Iran does not produce nuclear weapons. As a first step toward that objective, I pledge my opposition to all efforts to build and test new nuclear weapons for the U.S. arsenal. It is time to lead by example. If we are to stop other countries from securing these terrible weapons, we must live up to our own non-proliferation obligations. I will continue to cooperate with European countries and international agencies in multilateral talks with Iran, but I will a
lso instruct the Secretary of State to work to begin direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran without preconditions. We can negotiate with Iran on a mutually acceptable settlement of the nuclear standoff while making it clear that Americans absolutely reject anti-Semitism and threats against Israel. We will seriously and persistently apply strategic combinations of pressures and incentives, beginning with direct negotiations.

Foreign aid. We must honor our commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (addressing poverty and hunger; education; gender equality; child mortality; maternal health; HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environmental sustainability; and increasing effective aid, debt cancellation, and just trade policies). I urge the Congress in this year’s budget to increase U.S. international development assistance by an additional one percent of the federal budget in order to do our part in the goal of reducing global poverty in half by 2015.

In all of these areas, we need a new politics inspired by our most deeply held values. We must summon the best in the American people, and unite to solve some of the moral issues of our time. Americans are not essentially concerned about what is liberal or conservative; what is Democrat or Republican. Rather, we care about what is right and what works. The path of partisan division is well worn, but the road of compassionate priorities and social justice will lead us to a new America. Building that new America will require greater moral leadership from both Democrats and Republicans, and also from each and every one of us.

Thank you, and God bless you.

What are your thoughts? Which issue facing us do you think is the biggest one the president and Congress should address?

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