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The last address: Obama’s final State of the Union

Olivier Douliery
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the House Chamber before delivering his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

In what many have argued to be his final significant address to the nation, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union to the country on Tuesday Nov. 12.

Beginning his speech on a light note, Obama joked about the upcoming Iowa caucus and prodded at lawmakers who expect his final year in office to be less than productive, but the rest of his State of the Union address focused heavily on American ideals.

Alluding to one of his original campaign slogans, “change,” he acknowledged and addressed the changes that the United States and the world have faced in the duration of his term — ones that he saw as both good and bad.

The president said that change is the only way that the country can move toward the future and it is the only way the country can tackle the biggest challenges it faces.

“Let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country face,” he said. “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity in this country? How do we make technology work for us and not against us … Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its police force? And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us and not what’s worst?”

Reflecting on the economic highlights of his presidency, Obama touched upon job growth under his administration — roughly 14 million new jobs — all while still cutting deficits by nearly three-quarters.

“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is claiming fiction,” he said. 

Obama also said that while the economy may no longer be in decline, it is changing. Technology is causing jobs to become increasingly automated and greater communication and technological capabilities are making companies more mobile and easier to relocate, causing the economy to become more difficult to navigate.

In one of the more pointed portions of his speech, Obama addressed the affordability of higher education — one of the more hot-button issues on both sides of the 2016 presidential race — and demanded that education be made more affordable.

“We have to make college affordable for every American … no hard working student should be stuck in the red,” Obama said. “… Providing two years of community college at no cost to every student is one of the best ways to do that — and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.”

Continuing on the subject of affordability, the president made a call that the American people be assured that the “system is not rigged.” He demanded that Congress ensure that the U.S. government looks out for more than just the rich, that it looks out for the middle class, the poverty stricken and the less fortunate.

Emphasizing his stance that tax cuts are only there to serve the upper-class, he stressed the importance of building an economic system that sustains all of its members — from the lower to upper classes.

“Food stamps did not cause the financial crisis, recklessness on Wall Street did,” he said.

The second portion of his speech focused on American safety and the need to keep America safe and strong without alienating ourselves. He challenged the rhetoric of the Republican Party and its 2016 presidential candidates who recently have been saying that America is getting weaker while its enemies are growing stronger.

“America is the most powerful nation in the world. Period,” he said. “People of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us.”

He went on to challenge ISIS, saying that while “twisted minds plotting attacks in apartments and garages” might be terrible threats to the population, they are not a challenge to America’s foundation as a country — regardless of what ISIS propaganda may lead you to believe.”

He then challenged Congress to authorize military use against ISIS if it is truly serious about bringing ISIS to its knees.

Closing his speech, the president mentioned one of the regrets of his presidency — the mistrust of the general population in its policy makers and in its government.

“The future we want, all of us want … is in our reach. But it will only happen if we work together, it will only happen if we have rational constructive debates, it will only happen if we fix our politics,” he said.

With that, the president ended his final State of the Union address.

“I stand here confident that the state of our union is strong,” Obama concluded.

Follow Sam Gross on Twitter.

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