Obama delivered his final State of the Union address. Traditionally, it is assumed this is the end of a presidential term. The election year is only weeks away from formally starting, with the primaries, and therefore the outgoing president has nothing left to do. He walks like a lame duck; in other words, he no longer walks and is not expected to do anything relevant.
And yet, far from offering a farewell speech before Congress, with a self-indulgent recount of his achievements, the president talked about the great challenges of the United States. With a state vision, he set himself above disagreements and described the main challenges his country will face in the coming decade.
His speech addressed four main themes. First, he talked about the economy; he feels it is essential to ensure equal opportunities for all. He included the issues of education and health, acknowledging current disagreements. Secondly, he talked about the implicit challenges presented by technological change. Thirdly, he outlined how foreign policy should be rethought, and, lastly, he talked about the need to transform the way domestic policy is done, commenting that the bipartisan relationship is unnecessarily dysfunctional.
The economy has changed radically and will continue to do so. The reality of the 21st century involves a necessary transformation of employment policies: they must provide financial security to employees and employers on the basis of instability. Hardly anyone will keep their same job for 30 years.
Government, society and businesspeople need to take responsibility for climate change; looking for clean energy sources is essential. In the land of cars, he acknowledged the need to rethink public transportation as a sustainable necessity.
National security and, therefore, the U.S.’s relationships with all other countries, needs a new vision. Recognizing they have the largest economy and the largest military force, national security will need to take a radically different approach to face terrorist threats.
Without talking directly about Donald Trump, he made an elegant reference to the need to consider the U.S. as part of an open world, whose security cannot stem from Manichean policies based on racial or religious discrimination.
I thought his self-criticism of domestic policy and bipartisan relationships was particularly significant. He humbly accepted that one of his failures was not being able to build bridges between Democrats and Republicans.
Just as the election process is about to begin, he criticized the way in which the parties interact with citizens, and how they push them away from politics. He urged both parties to abandon gerrymandering tactics and to stop designing districts to obtain triumphs while manipulating public intent.
He railed against super PACs, without mentioning them. He acknowledged the way in which campaigns and their funding have become more expensive, with the anonymous donations of a few families damaging U.S. politics. Reducing campaigns to a funding race pushes citizens away from the booths and inhibits participation, impoverishing politics.
Acknowledging that political plurality and diversity are essential to democracy, he reproached both parties for the havoc caused by their polarizing positions. The radical voices, always a minority, make the majority step away from political discussions, preventing cooperation between parties and dramatically reducing the quality of political debate. Political extremism feeds resentment between politicians and increases political apathy. Democracy is strengthened by trust between parties, and, above all else, citizens’ trust in politics. It is urgent to fix this political system.
Obama’s eight years are about to end and, based on his speech, during his last year he will enjoy the freedom of knowing he is about to leave. Barack Obama is a great speaker.