“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close,” President Obama said last on January 12, 2016, while delivering his eighth and final State of the Union address to the nation on Tuesday night. The address was both a victory lap, celebrating the accomplishments of the last seven years, and a condemnation of what President Obama perceives to be alarmist rhetoric being used on the campaign trail over the last several months. He said those who argue the economy is crumbling and foreign enemies are gaining ground are “peddling fiction” and full of “hot air.”
There were plenty of policy proposals for the coming year to deal with issues like education, medicine, immigration, gun violence, gender equality, and the minimum wage. But delineating those proposals was not the point of the President’s.
He recognized “four big questions” regarding the economy, technology, security and democracy that the United States still faces and urged Americans to continue to address these concerns after his presidential term ends. Still, the president expressed confidence in his achievements and asserted that “the state of our union is strong.”
Obama strongly, although implicitly, condemned the campaign rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. However, he also vowed to work to mitigate the political divisiveness of today’s culture. “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office,” said the president.
After explaining his vision of the future—one that is inclusive of all races and religions and free of vitriolic politics—President Obama laid out a list of everyday Americans who he says convince him that such a future is possible, from soldiers to students to young immigrants.
“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,” he said. “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.”
But there were lows, too. The most negative point occurred when President Obama conceded that al Qaeda and ISIL do pose “a direct threat” to US citizens. “[I]n today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage,” he said. “They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.”
President’s address has drawn criticism from some. David French at the National Review argues that Obama’s reminders of the strength of the United States “inadvertently highlights one of his greatest failures.” He acknowledges that Obama’s statements that the U.S. has “the world’s strongest economy and the world’s strongest military” are true but explains that Obama is not the reason for these strengths. French says that Obama’s policies have actually led to increased threats from the Islamic State group, Libya and Iran.
President Obama emphasized the importance of unions in building a strong economy. “Middle-class families,” he declared, “are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.” Tuesday night’s address may not have been President Obama’s most hopeful, but it may be the most representative of his presidency—a presidency of peaks and valleys in which every success has been preceded and followed by a hard fought struggle. President Obama ended his speech by stating, “I stand here, as confident as I have ever been, that the state of our Union is strong.”