As most know, President Obama traveled to Austin this week where, according to the White House, he simply “sat down for coffee with a letter writer, delivered a speech on the economy, and grabbed some lunch at a local BBQ joint.”
Of course the President did much more than that.
For example, that unassuming “delivered a speech” represents, in my opinion, one of the best, frank, spirited, passionate, telling-it-like-it-really-is, “let her rip” (his words) speeches I have heard him make — and about time.
The following are images and a few White House comments on the “coffee with a letter writer” and grabbing “some lunch at a local BBQ joint.”
After that, some of the President’s remarks at the historic Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas.
In the morning, the President grabbed coffee with Kinsey Button, who wrote him a few months ago (Lead photo).
Kinsey Button is a student at the University of Texas at Austin. She wrote the President talking about her family’s struggles, after both of her parents lost their jobs.
Kinsey said she’s always been passionate about politics and engaging with this country’s most important issues — but after the government shutdown last year, she wrote in her letter that she felt like Washington wasn’t listening.
So the President wanted to meet with Kinsey to let her know that he is listening — and that he’s listening to every American who is just trying to do the right thing to build a decent life for themselves and their families.
After coffee, the President gave a speech in Austin. [More below]
Then, the President stopped at a local BBQ joint.
President Barack Obama orders lunch during a local stop at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. July 10, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
And then it was wheels up on Air Force One, back to Washington.
Excerpts of the President’s remarks at the Paramount Theater (I have left out the numerous “applause” and “laughter” lines, except for in a couple of places):
The Affordable Care Act has given millions more families peace of mind. They won’t go broke just because they get sick. Our deficits have been cut by more than half.
We have come farther and recovered faster, thanks to you, than just about any other nation on Earth. And so we’ve got a lot to be encouraged by, just as the story of Kinsey’s family makes us feel more encouraged. For the first time in a decade, business leaders around the world have said the number-one place to invest is not China, it’s the United States of America. So we’re actually seeing companies bring jobs back. So there’s no doubt that we are making progress. By almost every measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office.
But the fact is we’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve still got a long way to go, because while we’re creating more jobs faster these first six months of this year than any time since 1999, we know there are still a lot of folks out there who are looking for work or looking for more full-time work or looking for a better-paying job. Corporate profits are higher than ever. CEOs make more than ever. But you’re working harder than ever just to get by and pay the bills.
So, as a whole, the country is doing better. But the problem is, is that so much of the improved productivity and profits have gone to the folks at the very top, and the average person, their wages and incomes haven’t really gone up at all, and in some cases, haven’t kept up with the rising cost of health care or college or all the basic necessities that people need.
And let me be clear about why Washington is broken, because sometimes everybody says, well, you know what, all politicians are the same, he parties — the Democrats, Republicans, it doesn’t matter. Look, Democrats are not perfect, I promise you. I know a lot of them. And, yes, every member of Congress, they’re thinking about, I’d like to be reelected and I’d like to keep my job. That’s human nature. We all understand that. But let me be clear. On the common-sense agenda that would help middle-class families, the overwhelming number of Democrats are in favor of these things.
They’re in favor of minimum wage. They’re in favor of equal pay. They’re in favor of extending unemployment benefits. They’re in favor of infrastructure. They’re in favor of investing in research and development. They’re in favor of making college more affordable. They’ve got specific proposals. They’re willing to compromise. They’re prepared to go forward.
So when folks say they’re frustrated with Congress, let’s be clear about what the problem is. I’m just telling the truth now. I don’t have to run for office again, so I can just let her rip. And I want to assure you, I’m really not that partisan of a guy. My favorite President is the first Republican President, a guy named Abraham Lincoln. You look at our history, and we had great Republican Presidents who — like Teddy Roosevelt started the National Park System, and Dwight Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System, and Richard Nixon started the EPA.
The statement I’m making is not a partisan statement, it is a statement of fact. So far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every serious idea to strengthen the middle class. They have said no.
They’ve said no to raising the minimum wage. They’ve said no to fair pay. They said no to unemployment insurance for hardworking folks like Kinsey’s parents who have paid taxes all their lives and never depended on anything and just needed a little help to get over a hump. They said no to fixing our broken immigration system that we know would strengthen our borders and our businesses and help families.
Instead of investing in education that helps working families, they voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. Instead of creating jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our ports that help every business, they’ve decided to protect tax loopholes for companies that are shifting jobs overseas and profits overseas.
The best thing you can say about this Congress — the Republicans in Congress, and particularly the House of Representatives — the best you can say for them this year is that so far they have not shut down the government or threatened to have America welch on our obligations and ruin our credit rating. That’s the best you can say. But of course, it’s only July — so who knows what they may cook up in the next few months.
So even as they’re blocking policies that would help middle-class families, they keep on offering these theories of the economy that have failed over and over again. They say, well, if we give more tax breaks to folks at the top that’s going to be good. If we make fewer investments in things like education, everything will work out. If we loosen the rules for big banks and credit card companies and polluters and insurers, somehow that’s going to make the economy better. If we shrink the safety net and cut Medicaid and cut food stamps, and make sure that folks who are vulnerable and trying to get back on their suffer more hardship, somehow that’s going to improve the economy.
Now, they believe these things — sincerely, I assume — that if they — if we do these things, if we just take care of folks at the top, or at least if we don’t empower our government to be able to help anybody, that somehow jobs and prosperity will trickle down and we’ll all be better off.
And that may work just fine for folks at the top. It worked fine for me. I don’t need government. Michelle and I now are in a position where we can pretty much finance Malia and Sasha’s college education. But I remember when Michelle’s parents couldn’t, they needed help. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe in pulling up the ladder once I’m up. I believe in extending it down and making sure that everybody has a chance to climb up.
And I will always look — I’ll always look for ways to get Republicans and Democrats together in this effort. But I’m not — I can’t stand by with partisan gridlock that’s the result of cynical political games that threaten the hard work of millions of Americans. I’m not just going to stand by and say, okay, that’s — I guess that’s the way it is. Whenever and wherever I have the power, the legal authority to help families like yours, even if Congress is not doing anything, I will take that opportunity. I will try to make something happen.
And that’s the reason — that’s the reason why my administration has taken more than 40 different actions just this year to help working Americans — because Congress won’t.
Congress won’t act to make sure a woman gets equal pay for equal work. So I made sure more women have the protections they need to fight for fair pay in the workplace — because I think when women succeed America succeeds. So we went ahead and did that.
Congress won’t act to create jobs in manufacturing or construction. Well, I went ahead and speeded up permits for big projects. We launched a new hub to attract more high-tech manufacturing jobs to America. I want to make sure the next revolution in manufacturing is right here in America; it’s an American revolution, not a German or a Chinese revolution. I want it happening right here in Austin, Texas.
Congress so far hasn’t acted to help more young people manage their student loan debt. So I acted with my lawful authority to give nearly 5 million Americans the chance to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income so they can manage it better, so that if they go into teaching, or they go into social work, or they’re doing something at a non-for-profit, that they’re not encumbered by mountains of debt. I don’t want our future leaders saddled with debt before they start out in life.
And Republicans in Congress so far have refused to raise workers’ wages with a higher minimum wage. So I acted to require that federal contractors pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour which would give hundreds of thousands of workers a raise. I asked business owners and governors and mayors and state legislators — anybody I could work with — do what you can on your own, I told them.
As long as Congress will not increase wages for workers, I will go and talk to every business in America if I have to. There’s no denying a simple truth: America deserves a raise, and if you work full-time in this country, you shouldn’t live in poverty. That’s something that we all believe.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. There are a number of Republicans, including a number in the Texas delegation, who are mad at me for taking these actions. They actually plan to sue me. Now, I don’t know which things they find most offensive — me helping to create jobs, or me raising wages, or me easing the student loan burdens, or me making sure women can find out whether they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job. I don’t know which of these actions really bug them.
The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years. So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did. (Applause.) Maybe it’s just me they don’t like. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some principle out there that I haven’t discerned, that I haven’t figure out. (Laughter.) You hear some of them — “sue him,” “impeach him.” Really? (Laughter.) Really? For what? (Applause.) You’re going to sue me for doing my job? Okay. (Applause.)
I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job — (laughter) — while you don’t do your job.
We could do so much more if Republicans in Congress would focus less on stacking the deck for those on the top and focus more on creating opportunity for everybody. And I want to work with them. I don’t expect them to agree with me on everything, but at least agree with me on the things that you used to say you were for before I was for them.
You used to be for building roads and infrastructure. Nothing has changed. Let’s go ahead and do it. Ronald Reagan passed immigration reform, and you love Ronald Reagan. Let’s go ahead and do it.
I mean, what changed? I’m just saying. That’s what made our country great, a sense of common purpose, a sense we’re all in it together as one nation, as one people. We can debate the issues, we can have our differences, but let’s do something. Let’s rally around an economic patriotism that says, instead of giving more tax breaks to millionaires, let’s give tax breaks to working families to help pay for child care or college.
Instead of protecting tax loopholes that let corporations keep their profits overseas, let’s put some of that money to work right here in the United States rebuilding America. We can rebuild our airports, create the next generation of good manufacturing jobs, make sure those are made in America.
Let’s rally around a patriotism that says we’re stronger as a nation when we cultivate the ingenuity and talent of every American, and give every 4-year-old in America access to high-quality education — good-quality preschool. Let’s redesign our high schools to make them more relevant to the 21st century economy. Let’s make college more affordable. Let’s make sure every worker, if you lose your job, you can get a good job training that gives you an even better job.
Let’s embrace the patriotism that says it’s a good thing when our fellow citizens have health care. It’s not a bad thing. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing when women earn what men do for the same work. That’s an all-American principle. Everybody has got a mom out there or a wife out there or a daughter out there. They don’t want them to not get treated fairly. Why would you be against that?
It’s a good thing when parents can take a day off to care for a sick child without losing their job or losing pay and they can’t pay their bills at the end of the month. It’s a good thing when nobody who works full-time is living in poverty. That is not radical. It’s not un-American. It’s not socialist. That’s how we built this country. It’s what America is all about, us working together.
So let me just wrap up by saying this: The hardest thing to change in politics is a stubborn status quo. Our democracy is designed where folks who have power, who have clout — they can block stuff, they can keep things as they are. It’s hard. It’s even harder when Washington seems focused on everything but your concerns, Kinsey’s concerns.
There are plenty of people who count on you getting cynical and count on you not getting involved so that you don’t vote, so you give up. And you can’t give into that. America is making progress, despite what the cynics say. Despite unyielding opposition and a Congress that can’t seem to do anything, there are workers with jobs who didn’t have them before; there are families with health insurance who didn’t have them before; there are students in college who couldn’t afford it before; there are troops who served tour after tour who are home with their families today.
Cynicism is popular. Cynicism is popular these days. It’s what passes off as wisdom. But cynics didn’t put a man on the moon. Cynics never won a war. Cynics didn’t cure a disease, or start a business, or feed a young mind. Cynicism didn’t bring about the right for women to vote, or the right for African Americans to be full citizens. Cynicism is a choice.
Hope is a better choice. Hope is what gave young soldiers the courage to storm a beach. Hope is what gave young people the strength to march for women’s rights and civil rights and voting rights and gay rights and immigrant rights.
Hope is what compelled Kinsey to sit down and pick up a pen, and ask “what can I do,” and actually think maybe the President might read that story and it might make a difference. And her voice rang out here in the Paramount Theatre. And it’s her voice and your voice that’s going to change this country. That’s how we’re going to make sure that we remain the greatest nation on Earth — not by asking what we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for each other and what we can do for our country.
And so, as President, I’m going to keep a promise that I made when I first ran: Every day, I will keep asking the same question, and that is, how can I help you? And I’ll keep treating your cares and your concerns as my own. And I will keep fighting to restore the American Dream for everybody who’s willing to work for it.
And I am going to need you to be right there with me. Do not get cynical. Hope is the better choice.
Thank you, Texas. Thank you, Austin. God bless you. (Applause.)
You can listen to the entire speech below:
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