“I want to focus on our future” – President Barack Obama.
On Tuesday, President Obama spoke in front of Congress to deliver his seventh and final State of the Union address. It began with light jokes in typical Obama fashion—this time about the current presidential race—but the speech soon settled into a serious look at the present and future.
This State of the Union speech did not involve the same specificity of the President’s previous addresses. Instead, Obama outlined his hopes for the country’s direction in the next decade and beyond. He touched on current contentious issues such as gun control, healthcare, terrorism, workers’ rights, and the U.S. economy. At its most abstract, the speech touched on elements of American political culture, as Obama expressed remorse over the intense bipartisan divide of the country.
The key point in his look to the future, however, was the need to prepare for an increasingly global economy by championing advances in green energy and medicine, supporting technological innovation and training in scientific fields, and making it cheaper and easier for American youth to pursue higher education.
The President noted that the “bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start” on the road to designing better curricula, and stressed that rates of early childhood education and high school graduation have improved in recent years. Obama encouraged the nation to “build on that progress by providing Pre-K for all, [and] offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.
We have to make college affordable for every American,” Obama continued, “because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red. We’ve already reduced student loan payments to ten percent of a borrower’s income. Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college. Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that.”
With regard to the revitalization and regulation of the private sector, Obama said, “How do we reignite [the] spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?” The President has focused many of his proposals in education on funding STEM programs, which he considers a catalyst to activate the “spirit of discovery… in our DNA.” In a shout-out to the tech capitals of the U.S., Obama declared, “We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.”
But Obama’s concern for the youth of this country did not stop at a request for a national focus on innovation and extended education. The President also discussed climate change as a urgent struggle of today and for the indefinite future. Obama led with the economic benefits of the green energy market for bipartisan appeal.
“Wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power… solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal—in jobs that pay better than average. We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy—something environmentalists and Tea Parties have teamed up to support. Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.” The President conceded that dramatic change could not happen overnight, and certainly not without expected push-back from certain groups. However, Obama maintained that the effort was still worth it, for “the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve — that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”
The President concluded with an appeal to the American people to recognize our strength, to realize that diversity is what brings us together, not what divides us, that we can strive for a better political system free of “hidden interests” and for a government “of, by, and for the people” even if we disagree with what others have to say. Obama reminded Americans that we must “vote… speak out” and be “clear-eyed, big-hearted, [and] optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
“That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”