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President Obama, state your business

We have a friend whose response to any kind of waffling is a blunt three-word directive: “State your business.” That phrase kept coming to mind this week as we awaited President Obama’s first State of the Union address.

He’s to deliver the speech on Wednesday evening, and we’re writing this on Tuesday, with nothing more than a vague idea about what he may say. But we know this much:

After a year in office it’s time — actually, way past time — for him to state his business.

That may seem harsh. After all, few presidents have faced such a staggering array of problems upon taking office: an imploding economy, an unemployment rate climbing toward double digits, a banking system about to go under, a housing market already under, two shooting wars with no end in sight, a war on terror with no certainty of success and a health care system with an unaff ordable future — just to name a few of the crises that fell upon the new president.

Shouldn’t we cut him some slack?

That depends. If you’re not affected by any of the above, maybe you have the luxury of waiting patiently for results. For the rest of us, it’s time for President Obama to deliver on his twin campaign promises: hope and change.

Let’s talk first about hope — and health care reform. Month after month, we’ve waited to see what the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress will produce. We’re still waiting, and we still have no clue how any specific person or business will be affected by reform — that is, if a bill actually gets enacted.

Meanwhile, there’s a small business here in Letcher County that employs a person who has fought a bruising battle with cancer. To us, that person is gutsy and strong. But to the insurance company that provides coverage for the business, that person isn’t a person — that person is simply a pre-existing condition or an elevated risk, which translates into charging the employer $1,000 a month (more than double the base amount) in premiums for that one employee.

All across America there are small employers in similar situations, struggling to do right by the people they value but — in a wretched economy — increasingly unable to afford health coverage for them. And there are countless cancer survivors who, rather than feeling like victors, instead feel guilty for burdening their employers and fearful that if they were to lose their jobs, no one else could afford to hire them. They deserve better — much better — than to be sentenced to live in a twilight zone of uncertainty.

When President Obama declared health care reform his number-one priority in 2009, we hoped he would hit this miserable situation head-on. We wanted him to tell the nation exactly what he intended to achieve and how he would do it. Instead, he largely outsourced the task to Congress. That game plan made as much sense as a Super Bowl quarterback telling his linemen to call the key plays.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that a year later there’s not a single person in the United States who knows what health care reform will mean for them personally, or how it will affect their pocketbook. The same holds for every small business in the United States. Is it any wonder that millions of Americans are angry, and that scores of Democratic office-holders are likely to be defeated in the mid-term elections?

So much for hope. What about change? Well, in the face of the worst recession in 75 years, Obama hired as his agents of change a bunch of economic advisors whose hands-off philosophy had contributed to letting an unregulated Wall Street and a freewheeling banking industry drive the economy into a ditch. Small wonder that the stimulus program they then crafted came up short. Do you know anyone who has benefited from it? We don’t either.

One thing has been abundantly clear since election night. Republican leaders — Kentucky’s own Mitch McConnell foremost among them — are out to destroy Obama. Their strategy consists of two words: “delay” and “no.” The word “cooperation” is nowhere in their lexicon. If, after a year of being made to look like a patsy, President Obama still doesn’t grasp that fact and still tries to reach across the aisle, it will be clear that he’s headed toward an early exit.

What the nation still awaits from him is not more bold and inspiring rhetoric — we know he’s good at that — but bold and inspiring leadership. That’s the only weapon that can prevent McConnell & Company and their corporate backers from taking effective control of Congress this year and actual control of the White House two years hence.

President Obama, we still wish you well. But please — state your business.

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