Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' doctors and the intern who rushed to her aid when she was shot in Tucson will be honored guests at Tuesday's State of the Union address. Without taking anything away from the doctors' skills or the young hero's bravery, what message does this send to the 1 million families who lost their homes to foreclosure last year or the 15 million people who lost their jobs and can't find new ones? I hope it's not "Take a back seat, chumps, I've moved on to something else."The principal issue facing our country right now is the economy, not gun control or the politics of hatred. The loudest words I want to hear coming from my president's mouth are the number of jobs he promises to create in 2011, how he plans to stem the rushing flow of foreclosures, how he intends to make sure we all have basic health care. I want him to pound his fist and declare that America is no place for college-educated people to have to live in their mothers' basements. I want him to profess his shame over Congress' turning its back on the unemployed. I want him to rage at the lenders who wouldn't help people stay in their homes even after he gave them the money to do so.
But the key to what I want to hear are Obama's plans for jobs creation. This week's initial filing for unemployment benefits jumped again. Still more people joined the ranks of the 99-ers, as those people are known who have exceeded all possible combinations of state and federal unemployment benefits at 99 weeks and still don't have a job.
When you lose your job, you have less money to pay your bills -- including your mortgage. Foreclosures are destroying communities everywhere. The landscape of lender-owned homes -- that's lenders who don't cut the grass, pull the weeds, maintain the property -- has changed what American suburbs look like. Entire neighborhoods that just a few short years ago flourished with families are virtual ghost towns.
But who is sitting in the spotlight at the State of the Union? Not the people who need the spotlight's attention on them the most.
I'm not dismissing the heinousness of what happened in Arizona, but it's a red herring compared to the gravitas of the nation's economic problems -- nothing more than a convenient diversion away from what really ails us. But it does have better visuals: a bright-eyed young intern who will be spending his 21st birthday at the side of the First Lady; exhausted doctors who take news-conference breaks from their valiant struggle to perform a miracle on an innocent congresswoman.
Until unemployment, and its first cousin, underemployment, go away, the pain and suffering being experienced by families across the country won't lessen. College plans are being derailed; retirement hopes are being abandoned; marriages are breaking under the strain of financial pressures. And these people aren't inclined to talk about gun control right now. Show them the money, the money that comes with a job. And maybe make a seat for them on the podium too. The real heroes in America may be the ones who manage to face each day with little hope from their government.
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