Tuesday night, President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to Congress and the American people, an address that largely focused on the future of the country beyond the President’s time in office.
“For my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to talk just about the next year. I want to focus on the next five years, ten years, and beyond,” said Obama.
“So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer—regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy? Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us—especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change? Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman? And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”
The questions revolved around a central theme for the President, a theme echoed often in the media and by the millions of American voices on social media: our government is broken.
Source: CBS News
“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,” said Obama. “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.”
The President’s address fixated on coming together, all Americans, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. The President sees a host of issues that need addressing, but sees the solutions at our fingertips will go unused unless we put aside our extreme ideological differences.
“Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.”
But though Mr. Obama sees division, he still believes the American people can bridge the divide to give everyone a “fair shot at opportunity” in the U.S. economy.
“Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.
“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”
Though Obama has a host of statistics for which to be proud, there remains an uneasiness in the country from the American people about the economy and the job market’s future, an uneasiness the President is acutely aware.
“Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated,” the President warned. “Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.”
The President laid out a host of steps that he sees being able to help Americans compete both home and abroad.
Mr. Obama touched on better education and affordable college, reiterating his push for two years of free community college. He spoke of strengthening Social Security and Medicare, not weakening the programs, as he says Republicans would do through privatization. The President spoke of a list of “basic benefits” all working Americans should have, including affordable health care through the Affordable Care Act, which has helped 18 million Americans gain insurance, slowed healthcare inflation, and helped businesses create jobs every single month since it became law.
Mr. Obama added there were plenty of areas where he and Republicans saw eye-to-eye, such as changing outdated regulations and cutting “red tape” for entrepreneurs starting a business.
President Obama’s second question focused on reigniting the “spirit of innovation” in America, to mirror the drive the U.S. had after Russia launched Sputnik into space and not “argue about the science” of it, but rather to “build a space program almost overnight.”
The President called on Americans to push forward into new technologies in clean energy, transportation, science research, medical and health care research so we can “make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”
Mr. Obama’s third question revolved around national security and terrorism, but also being a formidable yet respected leader in the global community.
“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. … Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead—they call us.
“As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower. In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.”
Failing states, like the Islamic State, or ISIL.
The President highlighted the American-led coalition that has turned back the Islamic State’s advances in the Middle East and killed several prominent leaders in their ranks, but also spoke of the dangers of playing into the terrorist group’s dangerous rhetoric.
“As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence.”
In truth, according to the President, it seems the biggest threat to our national existence seems to be ourselves.
“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country. ‘We the People.’ Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together.”
That includes, most importantly, the government with which we elect to represent us.
“Work together” to “fix our politics,” Mr. Obama said to answer his fourth and final question. It’s in the hands of everyday Americans to fix the government they believe to be so broken.
Yes, times have been tough for millions of people in recent years. Yet, times were tough – arguably tougher – in the past, but America has always persevered. It wasn’t easy. It never is. And that’s what makes America exceptional.
“That’s the America I know. 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.”