By Thomas Ashe
President Barack Obama on January 12 assured Americans during his final State of the Union address that the nation remains strong. The President struck a different tone, one unlike previous addresses to joint sessions of Congress. He reassured Americans that the United States is resilient and will never be destroyed.
While he recognized that specific policy agendas are important and would be outlined, he stressed that he would not focus his address on what he would like to accomplish in his last year in office. Rather, he chose to be bold and speak about America’s future, five and ten years from now. In a different approach, he spoke broadly about the challenges America faces and what changes he would like to implement.
Obama also spoke to the political gridlock facing Washington, posing the question:“Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?”
The president called for members of Congress to come together and reach consensus on improving the economy, technology, the political system, and security. The president shot back at Republicans, and notably at candidates in attendance hoping to succeed him, claiming that anyone who is claiming the economy is worse off today than when he entered office is “peddling fiction.”
Another shot at Republicans was his reminder that food stamp recipients did not cause the economic collapse–Wall Street recklessness did. Acknowledging the need for America to once again regain top status in innovation, the president called for new, bold action to cure cancer, and he charged his number two with getting that job done. Vice President Joseph Biden lost his son to cancer last year.
President Obama spoke clearly to the country’s security, saying that national security threats and climate change are both significant priorities for his administration. Challenging critics of climate change, he spoke to the profound economic opportunities the country can capitalize on, like solar and wind energy.
Regarding threats from failing states and ISIL, the president was clear, telling members of Congress to take a vote to authorize military force. “We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed,” the president said.
On politics, the president spoke about the need to work together, and then interestingly, spoke directly to the American people and called upon them to do more than just vote, because achieving progress requires a change in the political system. He proposed that less money be involved in the process and people should be able to vote more easily.
One notable official in attendance was Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses despite the Supreme Court ruling. Ms. Davis attended as the guest of a Republican congressman, and likely did not appreciate when President Obama said, “It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”