Obama: “We Have Risen from Recession. A Brighter Future is Ours to Write.”

In his sixth State of the Union speech, Obama challenged Congress to raise taxes for the wealthiest as well as demand the use of force against the Islamic State.

This could have been the most difficult State of the Union speech Obama has ever had to make. In fact, it was the most combative and optimistic State of the Union speech he has ever delivered. In his sixth State of the Union speech, Obama wished to mark the end of an era in American history, one which saw the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s, and ushered in a new era, one in which Americans should discuss and decide how to diminish social inequalities.

In front of a joint session of Congress and 40 million Americans that were watching him on television, Barack Obama sought to lay down his political agenda for the next two years, the last of his term. Above all, he wished to establish a particular focus for the 2016 elections. Obama advocated that the defense of the middle class and the fight against economic inequalities should be at the heart of the presidential candidates’ discourse.

The Middle Class

As expected, Obama’s legislative initiatives were in favor of the middle class. He spoke about giving tax credits to middle class families, exonerating certain students from paying tuition fees and providing medical coverage for employees on sick leave, all of which would be funded by raising taxes for the wealthiest (raising the tax rate from 23 percent to 28 percent for those earning more than half a million dollars a year).

Obama knows that the Republicans are ready to fight tooth and nail against raising taxes for the rich, but during certain points in his speech Obama was clear that he wished to find a middle ground, a compromise if possible (in fact, Obama’s proposed tax rate is the same as the one in place during Reagan’s mandate.) This can only happen if both sides are in agreement. For Obama, it was more important to present his vision, imposing, rather, his political agenda.

In this regard, his rhetoric was effective. He announced to the United States that the recession was now over and that people could start thinking about the future again. He stated, “But tonight, we turn the page. At this moment – with a growing economy […], we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come. The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong. […] our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs. […] about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.”

For Obama, greater social justice should be the pillar of this new era of economic stability. With this in mind, Obama asked Americans the following rhetorical question during his speech, perhaps one of the most important and influential points that he made: “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

Obama didn’t speak in a triumphant manner, but during his speech it was clear that he wished to take much of the credit for his country’s economic recovery. Now even Americans are starting to recognize the merit of some of his choices. The opinion polls give Obama a 50 percent approval rating, indicating the public’s new appreciation of Obama.

The rest of his speech focused on the threat of the Islamic State group. Obama has asked Congress to issue a resolution approving the use of military force against the Islamic State group, a bipartisan effort by the United States in the new war in the Middle East.

The Fight Against Terrorism

The war will be long – the White House must work with other countries to combat the Islamic State group. Obama stated, “In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”

When speaking about the war against the Islamic State group, Obama’s voice was more restrained compared to the tone of voice he used when speaking about the economy. Rightfully so, as Obama knows that Americans have not yet forgiven him for having underestimated the danger posed by the Islamic State group. He must also make strides against the Islamic State group if he wishes to leave a different mark in the fight against terrorism.

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