It appears that even when approaching the end of his term, President Obama continues to cling to his campaign’s famous motif of hope.
On Jan. 12, Obama delivered his final State of the Union (SOTU) address after seven long years in the presidency. In general, the SOTU address is given every year before the entirety of the U.S. government to report the economic, political and social condition of the nation as well as outline the president’s agenda and national priorities. It’s one of the few times the president commands the attention of both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, the President’s Cabinet and the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff all under one roof.
Interestingly enough, this years’ SOTU address was surprisingly different from the rest. Rather than providing an objective viewpoint of the situation, President Obama focused primarily on how great and wonderful the United States is today. He went on to list all the major accomplishments that America has achieved over the past several years: the longest streak of job creation in history, halved unemployment rates with the creation of 14 million new jobs, a successful year for the American auto industry and a national deficit a quarter of its original size. He predicted a bright future awaiting the country.
While the state of America is certainly improving, the President clearly embellished many aspects of the nation’s growth. The actual net number of jobs created during Obama’s presidency is just under 9.3 million, not 14 million. Obama just didn’t mention that more than four million jobs were lost during his first year (FactCheck. org). In addition, the President boasted about having created nearly 900,000 new manufacturing jobs. In truth, the U.S. actually suffered a net loss of 230,000 manufacturing jobs. Not only that, the president’s remark about the deficit ignores the context of the situation. Obama’s figure measures from the $1.4 trillion deficit run up in fiscal 2009. It overlooks the fact that Obama actually increased the deficit in 2009 by as much as $203 billion (FactCheck.org). Thus, the actual figure measured from the start of Obama’s presidency is closer to a two-thirds reduction than a three-quarters one.
It should come to no one’s surprise that these half-truths were mixed in the SOTU address to cast President Obama’s presidency into a more positive light. It’s to be expected when a president is trying to solidify their legacy. During the 2000 State of the Union address, Bill Clinton expressed his pride in how much America had improved since 1992 and proclaimed that “the state of our Union is the strongest it has ever been.” During the 2008 State of the Union address, George W. Bush talked about the success of his No Child Left Behind Act and credited the invasion of Iraq for drastically weakening terrorist forces in the Middle East and helping the world be a better place.
However, President Obama seems to have another reason for embellishing his achievements. Everything about this speech is strikingly different from past examples. Instead of being formal and straightforward, President Obama’s address was unusually relaxed and filled with jokes. Instead of building up to an emotional and solemn climax, it mostly remained charming and optimistic. Instead of providing an objective synopsis of the nation’s progress, Obama seemed fiercely determined to cast the state of America in the most positive light imaginable.
Not only that, the State of the Union address seemed more like a rallying cry than a straightforward summary of the nation’s agenda. He asserted that the likes of ISIS were merely fanatics who have to be systematically rooted out and claimed that America stood on top of the world as the most powerful nation on Earth. Obama not only celebrated our victories in the Space Race against Russia in his speech, but he also proclaimed that the “spirit of discovery is in our DNA,” as if Americans are genetically destined for greatness. He even goes so far as to declare that America will be the country that cures cancer once and for all.
These are inspirational assertions designed to exhilarate the people. The tone of the address is geared towards rousing the spirit of the people like a speech before war. It seems odd at first until you realize that Obama is doing all this to alter the path of the 2016 presidential election.
Based on his speech, it’s evident that President Obama has grown worried about the direction that the 2016 election is headed. While elections often bring out the worst of their candidates, this presidential campaign completely baffled experts and voters alike over the immense success of Republican front-runner Donald Trump. While first taken as a joke, Trump’s antics only grew more worrying as time passed. By the time it became clear that Trump becoming president is a frighteningly possible reality, it was too late. Many Republican candidates had followed suit and cultivated similarly extremist views backed by tens of thousands of supporters.
Now that 2016 has finally arrived with no signs of Trump’s campaign fading into oblivion, President Obama must have felt the need to do something about the situation. Thus, he used his State of the Union address to prevent further spread of radicalism among voters. President Obama’s speech was, above all, a plea for the nation to not lose hope in the face of growing fear and paranoia.
“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country,” stated Obama, making a clear reference to the anti-Muslim remarks of candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. President Obama also criticized how immigrants and Food Stamp recipients were wrongly blamed for economic problems and warned people that exaggerated, fear-driven claims about ISIS only helped the radical caliphate. Despite not naming the candidates outright, the president’s words served to urge the people of the United States to reject any sort of political rhetoric that divided the nation.
It’s a surprisingly bold move that many experts were startled to see, but it’s fitting for the president who once embodied hope and change for the American people. Unfortunately, words of hope may have a tough time reaching people during these times of deep cynicism and bitterness against America’s politics. It’s very likely that many voters will shrug off Obama’s vision as nonsensical fantasy. However, President Obama urges voters to remain hopeful: “It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.”
America is steadily approaching a turning point in its path. The 2016 election is no longer something we can simply ignore or scoff. It’s finally time to decide. It may be just wishful thinking, but I say we give hope another chance.