“The state of the union is strong.”
It was with those words that President Barack Obama ended his eighth and final State of the Union address on Tuesday. The words were rousing and cathartic for a nation that has recently faced confusion and fear, whether it be of terrorist attacks, undocumented immigrants, or seizure of firearms.
In a microcosm of Mr. Obama’s presidency, the opinions regarding his speech differed sharply along party lines but the strength of his convictions and the eloquence of his words could not be denied.
President Obama was not shy in touting the various accomplishments of the nation under his two terms, whether they were owed directly to him or not.
As such, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, eradication of Ebola, opening of relations with Cuba, lowering of gas prices and lessening dependence on foreign energy, rebounding of the economy from the Great Recession, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and acceptance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Iran Nuclear Deal were all touched upon.
Despite all his accomplishments, he was also careful to avoid appearing overly partisan, preaching a message of unity and cooperation that extends beyond one’s individual political views.
President Obama even shouldered some of the responsibility for the lack of progress and civility in Washington, something that he has been mostly hesitant to do over the past eight years, expressing the fact that the “rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse” as one of the great regrets of his time in office.
It was a big reach across the aisle to a party that has made it its mission to dogmatically oppose many of the president’s policies and a great credit to Obama as a statesman.
Nevertheless, he did also take the time to offer his opinions regarding certain Republican presidential candidates, notably Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, by dropping some not-so-subtle references to their political campaigns.
Mr. Obama attacked Trump and his bombastic claims about “making America great again” by invoking the sentiment of Lincoln that greatness cannot be achieved by adhering to the “dogmas of the quiet past” but rather with progress and innovation.
As for Cruz, the president used the former’s poorly thought out idea of “carpet-bombing” ISIS-held territory, regardless of what that would mean in terms of civilian casualties, as an example of a response that the United States cannot afford to provide when answering certain big questions on the global stage.
Of course now that the speech has been given, the logical question of “what comes next” remains. For all the pomp and significance afforded the State of the Union address in the public eye, it has historically been quite ineffective in terms of impacting legislation.
The president almost always praises his performance and reaffirms the quality and preeminence of the country while the other party must by necessity disagree and in so doing justify the existence of their differing political viewpoints. This year’s reaction was no different.
By this I refer not just to the official Republican response given by South Carolina governor Nikki Haley but the more general reaction from Republicans both during and after the speech.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan looked for just about anything to slam the address, saying Obama’s comments directed towards candidates like Trump and Cruz “degraded the presidency” while maintaining that the president was “divorced from reality” on matters like the economy and the Middle East.
Chris Christie said that he “watched story time with Barack Obama” during Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, while Ted Cruz was “heartbroken” that the American Naval officers being held in Iran went without mention, and Jeb Bush insisted that despite Obama’s assertions of military and economic might, our friends and foes no longer see any reason to respect and fear us.
During the address itself, President Obama’s political opponents noticeably remained seated during standing ovations when such controversial topics as gay marriage and climate change came up. In the end there seemed to be no indication whatsoever that the sides are ready and willing to come together for the good of the country.