Image: President Obama delivering the 2015 State of the Union address, photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
At 6pm PST on Tuesday, President Barack Obama began his eighth year of presidency with a last State of the Union. In his final address to the American people, Obama resoundingly took a positive outlook as he focused on ambitious prospects for the future nation.
“Tonight marks the eighth year I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union,” Obama began. “And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it shorter. I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.”
The President of the United States’ (POTUS) opening remarks were a tell-tale sign to most that this speech would be unlike those preceding it. Instead of traditionally delineating a specific agenda for the upcoming year, Obama concentrated largely on assuaging American fears and emphasizing a hopeful outlook for the next decade and beyond.
To emphasize this point, the POTUS outlined four major questions we need to address in order to achieve this “change.” The speech’s repeated theme of “change”, whether it be of the past or for the future, alluded much to the young Barack Obama platform that inspired voters in 2008. His largely optimistic rhetoric framed his summary of what he has achieved and what goals have yet to be met.
The President emphasized what he considered his three longstanding successes: reparation of the economy after its collapse, the Affordable Care Act, and international cooperation in trade and climate. Looking toward future policy, he recited a need to protect and increase equal opportunity laws, promote technological innovation, revamp the criminal justice system, expand free trade, increase anti-climate change efforts, and uphold social security and welfare.
Obama additionally defended his international efforts in the Middle East and unwavering commitment to a no-boots-on-the-ground policy. He pushed the importance of pursuing multilateral action on non-state actors abroad, an endeavor that would keep the United States from being the world’s “policeman.” The President also touched on his nuclear deal with Iran and opened relations with Cuba.
Yet despite his broad-based fixation with the future, the POTUS made veiled commentaries on the 2016 election rhetoric and Republican candidate platforms. In addition to denouncing–without name-dropping–Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal for “carpet bombing” ISIL, Obama made multiple slights at candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim policies.
“We don’t need to build [ISIL] up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions,” Obama said. “[…] When politicians insult Muslims… that doesn’t make us safer.”
Perhaps the most interesting topic covered was the President’s last, as he admitted that one of his “few regrets” of his seven years of presidency was his failure to “bridge the divide” between American political parties. Obama called for major reform in our nation’s political process, including “not just who gets elected but how they get elected,” referencing influence of big-money figures and the overall difficulty of the actual voting process.
With an ending that truly felt like a closure to a chapter of history, Obama made a final call to the American people. The President turned away from parties and politics and spoke about the duty of the people to take control of the future of their country.
“That’s the America I know,” Obama concluded. “That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future. Because of you. I believe in you. That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.”