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What is the state of the union? Here's what local people want to hear

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 26, 2010 - Right after Barack Obama was elected in November 2008, James Spies, a retired school principal in St. Louis, had a message for his fellow Americans: Give the new president time to tackle the tough problems ahead. 

As Obama gets ready to deliver the State of the Union address Wednesday night, Spies thinks the patience he called for has worn a little too thin, a little too quickly.

"He's been having a rough go of it," said Spies, one of several local people asked what they would like to hear the president say and how they think his first 12 months in office have gone.

"I don't think people are giving him a fair shot. He's only been in office a year. I think he needs time. By the same token, not much has been accomplished in that year.

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"People have gotten too disillusioned too quickly. I think it takes a while to get anything done in Washington, and he inherited a bad situation. He's got a lot of natural obstacles to anything he wants to get accomplished. People need to give him a little more time."

Spies said he would like to hear the president pledge "to stop spending so much on the military. He's not going to say that, but I'd like to hear him say that. I'd also like to hear him say he's going to continue to push on health-care reform."

On that major initiative, Spies isn't satisfied with what has come out of Congress so far.

"It's a little watered-down," he said. "I'd like to see it even stronger than it is, but I'm not sure there's much hope of getting that done."

Nancy Holtzscher of Glen Carbon also would like to hear more of a commitment to providing quality health care for everyone, but she isn't really expecting much.

"I would not be surprised if I don't hear anything terribly strong," she said. "I would like to hear that hopeful Obama that I heard during the campaign, someone who says damn it, we're still the majority and we're going to get something done. I think I'm going to hear more conciliation and less force, and I'd rather have it the other way around."

The first year of the Obama administration has obviously been a tough one, she said, as the new president moved from the rhetoric of the campaign to the reality of governing and trying to deliver all of the things he had promised.

"I love the guy," Holtzscher said. "I'm sure he's doing the best he can under tough circumstances. At the same time, I wish he and the party had been able to take the momentum he had coming out of the election and do something groundbreaking with it.

"The reality of trying to govern this country is probably too much, especially when you have so much opposition out there, the ideological drama. I would like to see more of a single focus to get something done, then move on to something else. I know he's trying, but I really feel he had more of a mandate coming out of the election that could have been used more forcefully and more successfully."

To Shamed Dogan, a former Republican candidate for state representative from Ballwin, the Obama administration has so far been far from special.

"I think his first year has been surprisingly disappointing," Dogan said in an e-mail message, "and I say that as someone who was telling my liberal friends before the inauguration that Obama would disappoint them. I expected him to adopt a dangerous combination of pro-big government and pro-big business policies, but I didn't realize how quickly there would be a public backlash against him, and I certainly didn't expect him to be so tone-deaf and inept in his responses to  criticism."

As far as what he expects to hear from the president Wednesday night, Dogan wrote:

"I would like to hear President Obama admit that he tried to do too much, too fast, and with too little input from the other side of the aisle. He should take the opportunity to change course and work with Republicans (as in adopting some of our ideas, not merely making a few feel-good phone calls to congressmen) to stimulate entrepreneurship and economic growth."

To Ann Bader, the top issue facing the White House remains health-care reform, "more so than even jobs and the economy. Without health we have nothing. If you have good, basic health care for everybody, that is fundamental to a society.

"My personal wish would be for Medicare for all, but I would be satisfied with health care for 30 million who are uninsured, rather than the entire 47 million. Incremental is better than nothing."

As the former president of the West County Democrats, she thinks Obama has been particularly good for America's standing throughout the world.

"I admire him," Bader said. "It feels good to be proud to be an American again. I like the fact that he likes to collaborate with people instead of just saying, 'I want.'

"I'm hopeful that good things will be accomplished. I'm happy that he doesn't have the arrogance of the previous administration, and in the eyes of other countries in the world, some of the shine has been restored to the United States."

Cynthia Bauer of Florissant grew up in Cook County, Ill., so she is familiar with the kind of politics that shaped Obama's career. She looks forward to hearing the president talk about reforming the tax system, health care and jobs.

"If he doesn't talk about those things during the State of the Union address," she said, "I don't know what he'd be talking about."

At age 55, she said she is underemployed and in need of reasonably priced health insurance. She hopes the administration can overcome resistance from within the Democratic Party as well as from the GOP and from outside interests to achieve changes in the health-care system, but she knows it won't be easy.

"Campaign money comes from sources that are not always that clearly identifiable," Bauer said. "You don't know who you are going to be undermining when you come out in favor of reforming something. They know that if you just wait, things will subside and people will just throw up their hands.

"I think there is still hope. This is still relatively early in his presidency, and he has to face the congressional elections this year. This is the reality. He can't ignore it, and the Republicans are certainly doing their best to capitalize on it.

"I don't think he's embarrassed himself. He's done a really good job of holding things together. I think we can hold our heads up and say he's a good president. I'm not sounding very optimistic here, but I actually am optimistic toward providing better health care, or at least changing the taxation system so it will be less onerous.

"It's anyone's guess right now, I don't know what he could possibly propose tomorrow that would surprise anyone."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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