by PABLO ROA
Last night, President Barack Obama delivered his seventh and final State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. In the speech, the president reflected on his seven years in office and discussed his plans for the final year of his presidency and the future of the United States.
Here are five takeaways from the president’s address:
1) Obama Takes a Victory Lap
As many expected, Obama spent a great deal of time discussing the accomplishments of his presidency. The president celebrated the nation’s economic recovery, the success of the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s renewed focus on clean energy and other key pillars of his time in office.
In his final State of the Union, the president took somewhat of a victory lap in front of a Congress that has, at times, done everything in its power to stop his administration’s policies.
The president discussed how the nation’s economy has improved under his watch — pointing to the country’s 5 percent unemployment rate and the fact that America is “in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history.”
Obama also lauded the effects of his presidency’s landmark legislation, the Affordable Care Act. The act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” has provided health insurance for nearly 18 million Americans who would otherwise be without it. Despite fierce opposition from Republicans, the Affordable Care Act is arguably Obama’s most substantial achievement and the most important part of his legacy.
The President also discussed some of his administration’s foreign policy accomplishments, such as the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Iran Nuclear Deal and the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Overall, the president looked to convince the American people that the nation has made great progress over the last seven years. Whether or not that’s true, well, that probably depends on who you ask and who they voted for.
2) In His Last Lap, Obama Looks to the Future
Obama’s speech was more than just a celebration of his presidency or a bulleted list of past accomplishments. Indeed, the speech was as much a reflection of the past as it was a window into America’s future, as envisioned by the president.
“For my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year,” Obama said. “I want to focus on the next five years, the next ten years and beyond. I want to focus on our future.”
The president’s goals for the future were both pragmatic and ambitious in nature. According to Obama, the nation faces four key issues that will one way or another shape its future: Giving everyone a fair shot in the economy, making technology work for us and not against us, keeping America safe and a leader in the world without being its policeman and fixing the nation’s broken political system.
All of these things, of course, are easier said than done. But the president believes they can be accomplished if the nation and its government work together.
Obama also offered some more ambitious goals for the future, including a “new national effort” to cure cancer led by Vice President Joe Biden. The announcement received loud and unanimous applause from the audience and was one of the more memorable moments of the address.
“For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,” he said. “What do you think? Let’s make it happen.”
3) In an Age of Gridlock, Obama Seeks Cooperation
Many of the president’s biggest goals have fallen through because of opposition from Republicans in Congress. After all, it’s hard to govern when the executive and legislative branches are run by different parties.
But Obama hopes to change this in 2016 and beyond. Despite political differences that he thinks the parties will never agree on, such as health care, Obama is convinced that the two sides can find a common ground on many issues like poverty in order to end political gridlock.
Of course, this is nothing new for Obama. His inability to work with congressional Republicans has burdened him throughout his presidency and both sides have made and broken promises to work together over the years.
But if the president wants to be active in his final year and continue to grow his legacy, he’ll need to be able to work with his colleagues in Congress. And based on what he said in his speech last night, that’s exactly what he hopes to do in 2016. Only time will tell if he can succeed.
4) Obama’s Speech Reads as a Rebuttal of Donald Trump
With the 2016 presidential race heating up and primary competition growing in both parties, many wondered just how deeply the president would delve into presidential politics in his address.
For the most part, Obama avoided any (direct) mention of the 2016 election. But the president did attack one candidate, hitting him time after time again with not-so-subtle jabs at both his policies and personality. That candidate, of course, is GOP frontrunner Donald J. Trump.
Indeed, almost the entire speech read as a rebuttal of Trump and everything he stands for. The president criticized the real-estate mogul’s views on the economy, immigration, Muslims and the United States’ presence in the world. Obama never mentioned Trump by name, but nearly every topic the president discussed included a criticism of some of Trump’s biggest campaign platforms.
These are a few of the quotes that can easily be interpreted as direct shots at Trump:
“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race our religion.”
“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”
“The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.”
5) Obama’s Legacy Hangs in the Balance in 2016
Despite the not-so-subtle jabs at Trump, Obama did a good job of looking past 2016 and staying above the fray of this year’s presidential election. But make no mistake, the president is just as concerned about the election as anybody else.
The fact of the matter is that Obama’s legacy depends almost entirely on the next occupant of his office. If a Republican is elected in November, there’s little doubt that he or she would work to undo many of the president’s achievements, including with his executive actions on immigration, gun control and the environment — all of which have become staples of his presidency.
This is part of the reason why Obama spent a great deal of time discussing his administration’s accomplishments — essentially telling the American people that they’ll continue to prosper if they elect another Democrat. While there’s no guarantee that a Democratic president would uphold all of Obama’s legacy, programs such as the Affordable Care Act are more likely to survive the next four years if the Democratic Party retains the White House.
For Republicans, this demonstrates just how much hangs in the balance in the 2016 election. They may disagree with everything the president has done during his seven years in office, but they know that if they win the election in November, they can change things in a heartbeat.