President Barack Obama addressed the American public in his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night. For the president, it represented a time to express the highlights and progress his administration had made and an appeal for the United States to continue that legacy. The beginning of the president’s speech appealed to a common theme from his campaign: that of a nation in change for the better.
“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” said Obama.
He cited indicators of economic growth out of the recession during his time in office, the resurgence of the automobile industry and reductions to the federal deficit. He also announced a commitment to simplify and streamline outdated regulations and red tape, earning a bipartisan ovation from the crowd of Republican and Democrat legislators.
On the president’s agenda, as well, was a new national effort to cure cancer. Referencing Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts to work with Congress to add resources to the National Board of Health, Obama tasked Biden with leading an effort to end the disease. Biden lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015, making this an especially tender and personal subject.
“For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,” Obama said.
The President also addressed climate change, reviewing past achievements under his tenure. He pointed to a 60 percent reduction in dependence on foreign oil and advances in clean energy, and added that in his final year in office, he would push to change how the country manages oil and coal resources. He also touched on the recent trend of lowered gas prices.
“Under 2 bucks a gallon ain’t bad either,” Obama said.
The President also addressed the role of the United States in world leadership. He asserted that America enjoyed a higher international reputation than when he entered office and that rhetoric claiming the country’s influence has declined is false.
“The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, period,” Obama said. “It’s not even close.”
He listed accomplishments, such as stopping ebola in West Africa and the nuclear deal in Iran. He then pledged to continue the fight against terrorism in the form of ISIL and urged Congress to vote to authorize military force against the group.
The conclusion of President Obama’s speech was an plea to improve the culture of politics.
“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,” said Obama. “It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.”
Response to the State of the Union was swift through official channels and through social media. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley issued the Republican response, decrying the president’s speech and asserting the future if Republicans took the White House. On Twitter and Facebook, trending posts circulated of Obama’s criticism of anti-Muslim sentiment and his inditement of big money in politics.