IN his last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama reflected on the bitter divisiveness that has come to define contemporary American politics, while vigorously defending his record and striking a positive note for the future.
Calling on Americans to “fix our politics”, Obama asked “how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?” adding “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancour and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better,”
Wading into the already fraught race to succeed his presidency later this year Obama took a thinly veiled shot at some of the ideas put forward by Republican challengers:
“As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background,” he said. “We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.”
In defending his economic record Obama pointed to the strength and durability of the economy, and private sector growth, under his watch, stating “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,”
Arguing for a fairer financial system he embraced the populist tone favoured by Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders, stating, “Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.”
Noting that terrorist groups such as Daesh are “killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed” he pointed out that they “do not threaten our national existence”, in the same way that climate change does.
He said that a “spirit of discovery” made America great and announced a new program in the bid “to cure cancer”, arguing that these are the lofty goals the US should be pursuing.
Republican presidential hopefuls clamoured to offer their criticism of the speech with frontrunner Donald Trump tweeting “The State Of The Union speech was one of the most boring, rambling and non-substantive I have heard in a long time”. Marco Rucio argued that “while Isis [Islamic State] is beheading people and burning them in cages he [President Obama] says climate change is our greatest threat,”
January 2017 will see the inaugural address by a new president as election fever promises to grip the US in the latter half of the year.
The State of the Union address is an annual message delivered by the president to Congress and the nation, in which the Commander-in-Chief delivers his summary of the nation’s affairs.