Largely positive feedback for Barack Obama’s State of the Union address — a summary speech — does not please the loudmouths that animate the Republican race for the presidency. Mr. Obama, a voluble and intelligent man, did not hold back from basking in the sun on Tuesday evening (it’s always irritating to hear an American president pander to patriotism), emphatically praising the “power” of the U.S. Yet we cannot deny that his optimism was believable given that the president will have been successful, for seven years, in putting forth a number of progressive gestures, despite the obstructionism of the Republican Party and the catastrophic legacy of his predecessor George W. Bush.
Indeed, here is a president under which the U.S. overcame — delicately — the Great Recession; who succeeded, until proven otherwise, in reforming the health care system so that millions of Americans could finally have health insurance; whose environmental policies have thwarted the Republican naysaying; and who rebuilt bridges with Iran and Cuba. This presidency is far from having fulfilled all of its promises such as those regarding immigration, gun control, and the de-escalation of the Syrian conflict, but it will, at least, have had the merit of cultivating future projects chock full of social progress and international relations that are (theoretically) less militarized.
Ultimately, the most serious failure of consequence for Mr. Obama will have been to have known so little of how to put the brakes on the widening inequality gap in the U.S. While the unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent and the economy has started to grow again, salaries have barely increased while income gaps have [steadily] increased since 2009. The rate of poverty is higher (14.8 percent) — that’s not what it was at the beginning of Obama’s first term. This says, something we must never forget, that his progressivism has its limits; he is part of a system of neoliberal growth where economic justice is not a principle.
Mr. Obama will perhaps have been the most right in his criticism of the American representative democracy. He recognized the growing anger of the population about a system that is [becoming] more and more infiltrated by lobby groups and big business. In this electoral year, the president had an easy time playing this card against the Republicans. Nevertheless, the absence of political dialogue has become a chronic illness in the U.S. that paralyzes democratic practice – an illness for which a remedy will probably not be found any time soon. The Republican candidates for the presidency are, moreover, holding another debate Thursday evening — where it will be possible again to measure the size of the ideological chasm that separates the two parties.