On Jan. 12, President Barack Obama addressed both the House of Representatives and the Senate about the progress of his administration during his annual State of the Union address. Instead of approaching Congress with a laundry list of his legislative proposals, Obama used this opportunity to finally discuss his legacy and the programs and reforms he has initiated during his seven years in office as well as to look ahead towards the issues that he believes will affect the country in the upcoming years. Here are my two main takeaways from the State of the Union address.
President Obama’s guests illustrated his true hopes for the future.
In order to highlight the major themes of the State of the Union address, many presidents invite guests that embody the ideals of the his speech to accompany the First Lady in her viewing box. For President Obama’s seventh and presumably final State of the Union address, such guests included Jim Obergefell, Spencer Stone, Satya Nadella, Lisa Jaster and Refaai Hamo as well as many others.
Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the 2013 Supreme Court Case Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that same-sex couples had the Constitutional right to marry. Stone, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, gained recognition when he and two other Americans subdued a gunman on a Paris-bound train, preventing a massacre. Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has led an initiative to provide computer science programs to students in K-12 schools; Nadella also has increased paid leave for Microsoft employees by eight weeks, giving mothers 20 weeks and non-birth parents 12 weeks. Jaster was the third woman to graduate from Ranger School, which began accepting women after the Pentagon lifted the ban on women in combat. Hamo grew up in Syria and worked to earn his Ph.D. but his life changed when a Syrian government missile destroyed the complex that Hano designed and where his family lived; seven of his family members died including his wife and his daughter. He fled to Turkey with the rest of his family but soon was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Unable to pay for healthcare in Turkey, Hano and his family have fled to America as refugees.
These guests all represent a variety of issues in America as well as the successes in domestic policy and anti-terror initiatives. Obama made clear last night that the he intends to continue to work on giving employees more access to paid leave, ensuring more social equality and allowing Syrian refugees a home in the U.S.
While these guests all represented significant themes of Obama’s State of the Union address, the guest that stole the show was the empty seat. Yes, an empty seat. This empty seat represents those lost to gun violence who no longer have a voice to make change in this country. By leaving this seat empty, Obama made sure that all of Congress understands that he intends on continuing his work on gun control – with or without their cooperation.
Obama did not hesitate to indirectly jab some of the 2016 GOP hopefuls
In order for many of Obama’s executive orders to remain in effect following his departure from office, Obama needs a Democratic successor. The Republican candidates have made it clear that their first day in office will include the new president tearing up Obamacare and Obama’s gun control policies. As a result, Obama was not averse to indulging in some indirect insults towards the GOP frontrunners.
“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” Obama said, insulting Donald Trump and his misleading fear mongering.
Obama also took a jab at Governor Chris Christie when he denied the “over-the-top claims that this is World War III.”
In addition, Obama addressed Senator Ted Cruz’s foreign policy plans, stating :“Our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians.”
While Obama did use this platform to criticize some of the candidates, he also complimented Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, “I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty. America is about giving everybody willing to work a hand up, and I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers without kids.”
However, Obama did not use this opportunity to wail on this partisan congress but rather harness support from the Republican House of Representatives leader. In the last year of his term, Obama will need the support of Congress to initiate his reforms so it is no surprise he tried to buddy up with the Stoic speaker.