The State of the Union – Special Edition
‘He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union…’
-Article II, Section III of the United States Constitution
The Hippo Collective proudly presents a special edition of The State of the Union report which contains a summary and analysis of the recent address delivered by the President of the United States Barack Obama during the State of the Union. The speech, which we suggest you read or view in its entirety, is of particular importance to US politics because it represents the initial blueprint for the agenda that the President and his Administration intend to pursue both in terms of domestic matters as well as in regard to international policy. The following text presents the main arguments in President Obama’s address as faithfully as possible. We hope that you find the report informative and useful.
By Giacomo Grechi
On Tuesday 20, 2015 the President of the United States Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and delivered the annual State of the Union speech. Obama generally outlined his political, economic and social policy goals for the upcoming year while analyzing the current state of the Nation. He divided his speech into three general sections: firstly he spoke about economic growth in the US, secondly about foreign policy issues and challenges and finally about the nation’s basic and foundational moral values. Throughout he proposed various bills, measures and initiatives in order to aid and serve US citizens and strengthen American hegemony in the international arena. He commenced by speaking of the current economic situation and how it can be further bettered.
Obama began by addressing the major improvements and resurgence of the economy during his two terms in office. He exalted the importance of the theory of Middle-class Economics as the underpinning force behind this progress. The starting point of Obama’s speech was the declaration that the United States has never been ‘freer’ to forge its own decisions and destiny.
Obama supported the claim of freedom by stating that over the past year the US largely decreased its dependence on foreign oil. This was due to new shale gas exploration and production. He said that these changes have partially contributed to lowering gas prices for the average American consumer. Furthermore he referenced the termination of combat operations in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. While these claims are generally true, increasing combat operations against the Islamic State and various other international terrorist organizations continue to represent a risk, albeit a necessary risk, to US soldiers. Obama used these changes to support the validity and efficiency of the theory of ‘Middle-class Economics’ in order to contrast and refute ‘Trickle-down Economics’ as the basis for this policies.
The President spoke about the significant economic growth that the US experienced over the past few years as it recovered from the global financial recession of 2008-2009. The White House livestream referenced the fact that the US gained much from 58 continuous months of economic growth. Obama acknowledged that while growth is generally good, it is important to ensure that all sectors of society are able to share and benefit from those improvements.
In order to ensure that growth benefits are equally distributed, Obama introduced various economic measures. He explain his proposed changes and justified them by stating that ‘working families’ needed to feel more ‘secure’. He suggested that financial security could be achieved through three main institutions, education, healthcare and childcare.
To begin with, a new tax cut was proposed to help families annually save up to $3,000 USD per child. Furthermore, Obama introduced a bill that would allow workers to earn up to 7 days of paid sick-leave per year. These two measures are expected to help working class families with multiple jobs ensure that they are able to better care for their children. The President stated that his proposals would ‘continue to work’ and would result in a more secure middle class ‘without politics getting into the way.’
Obama also introduced a motion to ensure that eligible college students could attend community college for two years for free. Again, he drew upon a historic comparison, recalling the improvements created through the implementation of free public high school education and the opportunities given to returning GIs in the post-World War II era. This last factor is especially important as it contributed to the immense US post-war boom and allowed the US to challenge the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War. Obama’s move is no less powerful and innovative. The White House again presented data to support the move: more than 40 percent of all US college students attend a community college. In an era in which high skilled and technical jobs are necessary for technological innovation, hopefully this project will be able to contribute successfully and efficiently.
Finally, Obama spoke about the need for better infrastructure, both digital and physical. In particular, the President wanted to pursue new trade deals with both neighboring and distant states and non-state actors in order to raise capital to pay for these infrastructure improvements. He highlighted the need for a free and open internet to allow American professionals to maintain competitiveness in fast-paced and increasingly crowded international markets. These proposals seek to develop the tools and resources that workers need to succeed. It remains to be seen whether Congress will collaborate with the President, especially in the form of establishing new trade deals. With these comments, Obama concluded his speech’s section on the economy and considered foreign policy and international relations.
Obama addressed six major topics in the international sphere as he evaluated the progress that had been made in the past year and requested the assistance of Congress to meet future challenges. He began by championing the end of US combat operations in Afghanistan and the transitioning of those operations to national and local security forces. He further commented on the US withdrawal from Iraq and addressed the dangers posed by the Islamic State. In regards to the IS, Obama requested that Congress grant him the authorization to use force in order to eradicate the terrorist organization and protect both US interests and allies and maintain international order. Obama subsequently turned to the importance of aiding Ukraine against Russia’s aggression and aspirations of international expansion.
In this regard, Obama framed the issue in terms of helping and protecting ‘the small guy’, in this case Ukraine, from bigger nations that intend to ‘bully’ and damage the former. He praised the multilateral sanctions that have been imposed in concert with European allies. Obama harshly criticized various analysts’ appraisal of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s supposed ‘masterful hand’ in dealing with the Ukrainian situation. Obama supported his argument and actions by noting that Putin’s economy is in ‘tatters’ and that as long the US leads with persistence it will be successful in defending its allies and ensuring global peace.
Obama championed the historic diplomatic progress made with the Republic of Cuba with the abolishment of the US’ trade embargo on its neighboring country. He stated that the policy was ‘long past’ its expiration date. Finally revoking the embargo would help the US ‘stand for its democratic values better.’ He summarized the policy and these new changes in the following manner: ‘When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.’ The President also acknowledged the progress achieved with the Islamic Republic of Iran during many rounds of negotiations.
Obama hailed gains achieved through the limitation of Iran’s nuclear program. Quoting Pope Francis, the President supported the diplomatic action by stating that ‘diplomacy is the work of small steps.’ The reference was notable in two ways: firstly it helped quell politicians and pundits who are critical of American diplomatic efforts and favor more forceful and belligerent options. Secondly, Obama urged the continuation of negotiations and announced to Congress that he would ‘veto any bill that tries to undo [this] progress.’ Talks have led to unprecedented improvements in limiting Iranian stock piles of nuclear materials and the slowing of its nuclear programs. That said, Obama followed up his comments by reminding viewers that ‘all options remain on the table’ in order to appeal and reassure allied concerns, in particular those of the State of Israel. Finally, the President addressed the topic of national security and in doing so spoke extensively about climate change.
To begin with, Obama announced concern over the development and spread of pandemics and called for the development of protocols and other measures to combat the problem. While addressing pandemics, he also praised US aid missions in Western Africa in resolving the Ebola outbreak. He then talked about the environment and the issue of climate change. Obama was adamant in his support for measures to answer the challenges posed by climate change. He stated that the Pentagon considered environmental issues as a serious threat to national security. Obama continued by saying that he will not allow Congress to endanger American children’s lives and jeopardize their future. In his conclusion of the foreign policy section, the President acknowledged bilateral progress made on carbon emissions by both the US and China and called for others to ‘follow suit.’
In the final section of his address Obama focused upon the importance of being conscious of the US’ founding values when governing. The President clearly appealed to these values in order to urge cooperation between political parties. He further developed this thought by calling the American people a large ‘family.’ He repeatedly used the expression ‘a better politics unites us’ to clearly iterate his argument.
This was perhaps the strongest portion of Obama’s address as he truly sought to circumvent partisan politics in the search for an often elusive sentiment of national unity. His rhetoric has been characterized as distinctly idealistic and moralistic. Many found his comments to be morally superior and pretentious, the words of a leader who has lost touch with both the common feeling of the US people and who is incapable of understanding and acknowledging the true nature of a chaotic and divided world. This was perfectly embodied when numerous members of the Republican Party cheered and clapped as Obama announced that he could not campaign in the future.
These actions, and Obama’s response for that matter, demonstrate the need for good governance partly through the support of core US values and ethics. The US prides itself in leading the world by example and therefore must aspire to adhere and practice the values of freedom, equality, and acceptance of diversity (Obama rightly noted this as a great strength). Through ‘good debate’ rather than the backstabbing, conniving and politicking that is too common in Washington D.C., the President suggested that better and more united democratic solutions to important issues can be reached. Obama concluded his speech by reminding the audience that fifteen years into the new century ‘[we are] more than a collection of red and blue states: we are the United States of America.’ If Democrats and Republicans can respect and adhere to the fundamental moral values discussed above while debating and resolving domestic and international challenges, the United States could truly be a progressive force for good.