Obama's last State of the Union address: "The American economy is strong!"
US President Barack Obama has been a lame duck longer than most. Continually frustrated by a hostile Congress – and attempting to rule during a time hugely influenced by The Tea Party – today’s State of the Union address offered one last chance set his legacy.
Looking as cool and relaxed as ever, ‘The Prez’ took to the floor of The House one last time. He started with a joke, promising to ‘… make this one as short as possible…” because “…some of you want to get back to Iowa.”
The key theme that ran through the address was the need to continually embrace change and to embrace adaptability as a strength. In words not dissimilar to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s speech on the night of his promotion to the top job, the underlying theme was that continuing innovation and the spirit of enterprise was the key to ensuring America remains strong.
While the first standing ovation was for “Ensuring the whole country can happily choose to marriage the person they want,” Obama soon turned to weighty challenges ahead. Key items on his shopping list are the need for equal pay for equal work, and another attempt to lift the minimum wage.
As expected, there was a large focus on the US economy, with a comparatively successful 2015 behind him. “The United States, right now, how the strongest and most durable economy in the world” (standing ovation again).
According to the President, Federal deficits have been cut by 75%. “Anyone declaring America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.” In particular, he pointed towards the auto industry, which has, “had the best year ever.”
Regardless of its strengths, America’s economy is transforming in profound ways. While unemployment is currently half of what it was in 2008, Obama acknowledged the increasing pressure of automation on the workplace, therefore limiting the ability of workers to argue for pay rises.
Announcing that the private sector is the lifeblood of the American economy, Obama received his first bi-partisan standing ovation by announcing, “There is still red tape that needs to be cut."
“Start-ups, entrepreneurs and small business should have a regulatory environment that works for them – and I want to reward those that ensure that looking after their employees works to their advantage.” How this policy quite fits with the planned reduction of red tape will be interesting to see unfold.
Obama used the momentum of the Paris climate talks to bring the spirit of innovation to assisting the fossil fuel industry move away from legacy technologies to those that align with the new mood for renewables. Throughout this section, he dismissed climate deniers as irrelevant, and encouraged them to become enablers for the future economy rather than holding steadfast to old ideas.
While Michelle Obama sat next to an empty chair symbolising victims of gun violence, one Republican sat next to an empty chair to acknowledge the estimated nine million abortions in the United States. Proof enough that, as those due to be re-elected in November look toward the upcoming caucus in Iowa, the divisive politics that have defined the last seven years see little chance of diminishing.