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Obama’s Final State of the Union

January 14th, 2016

On Tuesday night, President Obama gave his final State of the Union address. It’s a speech presidents give each January to talk about how the country is doing — kind of like a report card.

Since it was his last one, he also sort of, kind of used it as an opportunity to take a bit of a victory lap, summing up his achievements during his entire time as president. Since a new president will be elected this November, and candidates have already been campaigning for a while, Mr. Obama, a Democrat, also wanted to use his speech to help other Democrats running for president. So, on the whole, he painted a pretty rosy picture of how the country is doing. And with that he was implying that if you vote for another Democrat they’ll keep it up.

So what did he say?

He started by saying that we’re living during a time of great change. He said that can be both good and bad … but he mainly said we shouldn’t be afraid of it. That we should embrace it, adapt to it, and make it work for us. That’s what will make America stronger, he said.

How do we do that?

With the qualities we already have, he said. With optimism, hard work, coming up with new solutions and discoveries, celebrating our differences and by following the rules. He said that’s what got us through the last seven years which weren’t so easy (because the economy wasn’t good).  He said, “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and for the incredible things we can do together.”

(Highlights of 2016 State of the Union. Ad comes from video source, not HTE.)

So how do we apply our wonderful qualities? President Obama said by asking ourselves four questions (a little like that great book The Three Questions , but American politics style):

1) How do we make sure everyone has opportunities?

“We have the strongest and most durable economy in the world,” he said. That includes lots of people having jobs (preferably good, high-paying jobs). He emphasized that it starts with getting kids a good education.

2) How do we make technology work for us?

President Obama wants to continue focusing even more on clean energy, like wind and solar power, because he says that’s where the future is, so that’s where the jobs will be. Oh, and it’ll help save the planet along the way!

And, among other things, by making “America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”  No easy task. He put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of that. VP Biden lost his grown-up son to cancer last spring.

3) How do we keep America safe?

The president boasted that, “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close.” He added that the U.S. spends more on its military than the next EIGHT nations combined.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t some danger, but America isn’t as weak as the Republicans would like us to think, he argued.

But it’s not just about having the biggest military in the world, he said, adding that: “The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith … 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 for us to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”

4) How do we make politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

These days, Democrats and Republicans notoriously don’t often agree on even the most basic things, which makes it hard to get things done. And they’re supposed to be getting things done our behalf since we elected them. President Obama said it was his one regret during his time in office that he couldn’t get the Democrats and Republicans in Congress to play nice. Or at least nicer. Or in some cases even at all.

He said, “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. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

As with any relationship in our own lives whether it’s family, friends, communities … it’s not about agreeing on everything. “This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too, ” he said, adding that the way the Founding Fathers set up the government, we’re actually expected to argue. But we have to trust each other first.

He said it’s not just up to him to try to make and keep America great all by himself, that we have a role in making the country thrive as well. He said it is our job, “… to vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”

After the speech, his opponents in the Republican party, said wait, are we even talking about the same country? Republicans said America’s not doing nearly as well as President Obama made it sound — promising that if you elect them for president, they’ll fix it!

Finally, President Obama gave his vision not just for the country but also for himself when he’s done being president in a few months: “I’ll be right there with you as a citizen — inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far.” And he says he has hope because he knows those people are out there, the everyday but unsung people. “They don’t get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they are busy doing the work this country needs doing … You’re the reason why I have such incredible confidence in our future. Because I see your quiet, sturdy citizenship all the time.” 

He’s talking about you.

Here’s a video recapping all of his State of the Union speeches during his eight years in office. (It’s also a chronicle of how quickly he got gray hair from his stressful job!)


Republican response to President Obama’s speech .

Politifact fact-checking of President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union speech.

Breaking the issues down.

Full speech with enhanced graphics.

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