Friday, January 15, 2016

Cleaver: We don't have to agree on everything, but we have to work together

(From Fifth District Congressman Emanuel Cleaver)

On Tuesday night both Houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, gathered to receive the last State of the Union address from President Obama. This year’s speech was very forward looking and not simply a “victory lap,” as last State of the Union speeches have been for previous presidents. President Obama made it clear that he wants to infuse everything he does for his last year in office with the possibility of the American spirit, and that we cannot take our foot off the gas pedal; he will continue to work until his last hour in office next January.
Recording a television interview in Statuary Hall after Tuesday’s State of the Union Address
I believe that there is a lot of common ground in regards to the need for criminal justice reform, and I am yet to hear one of my colleagues say that it is unnecessary. There is widespread belief based on the many things we’ve seen on television and heard on the news over the last couple of years to suggest that we desperately need to reform our judicial system. It needs to be done and I think it was right of the President to include it in his speech.

I have been fortunate enough to sit in the House Chamber and listen to Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama make their emotional pleas to Congress and the nation about what they want to see done in the coming year. All three Presidents have tried to make an appeal to the best of us, the best part of who we are, but no one did it as eloquently as President Obama did on Tuesday night. I believe that the best part of Obama’s speech was his appeal to the Congress as a whole, to release the best part of who we are.

The President was at his best on Tuesday night, and although he probably didn’t give us any lines that will end up in history books, he did do what no other President has done as well, and that is to really seriously speak to Congress about the tone we have established, and about how damaging that has been to the body politic. The tone here in Washington has become unbearable; we are at a higher level of political tribalism than perhaps any moment in the past of this great nation. He appealed to us to release the better angels inside our political souls. He said:

The future we want — opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.

It will only happen if we fix our politics.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too.

This weekend, as we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, I encourage you to take a few moments and perhaps reread or rewatch the President’s speech. The tasks in front of us are monumental. But we will never be better off without being better. And finally, GO CHIEFS!

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