(Talk Media News) — In his final State of the Union address, President Obama sought to cement his legacy as well as paint an optimistic view of the future after his time in office has concluded.
Obama has largely been on the offensive since Republicans recaptured both chambers of Congress in the aftermath of the 2014 elections and has been at odds with the GOP at nearly every turn.
Despite that, Tuesday night’s speech had policy take a backseat to make way for Obama’s vision of the country long after he leaves the Oval Office.
“I want to focus on our future,” Obama said.
“We live in a time of extraordinary change – change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families,” Obama said. “It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.”
Obama called on Congress and the American people to embrace change together, and not to be divisive or negative in the path towards the future.
“We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people,” Obama said. “And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.”
While optimistic, Obama said that “such progress is not inevitable,” adding that the country is facing a series of choices that he sees as vital to the future of the United States.
“Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?” Obama said.
Obama echoed calls from previous addresses, and even themes throughout his time in the White House, for economic equality for low income and middle class workers as well as the promise of fulfilling and maintaining benefits such as Social Security and Medicare.
Those remarks also included a victory lap of sorts for his signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act.
Obama then pivoted to the ongoing threat against the Islamic State, seeking to once again calm the fears of a weary nation in the face of growing threats of overseas terrorism, especially in the aftermath of terrorist attacks both at home and abroad.
“Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage,” Obama said. “They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.”
Obama went on to say that the terrorists groups “do not threaten our national existence,” adding that that sort of rhetoric plays into the plans of groups like IS for recruitment and propaganda.
“We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions,” Obama said. “We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.”
However, Obama said despite the steps taken thus far through airstrikes and other military action, Congress needs to step up and get involved.
“If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL,” Obama said. “Take a vote.”
“If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell,” Obama went on to say. “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”
Obama went on to tout other foreign policy accomplishments during his time in office, pointing to coalition efforts in Libya to depose of a brutal dictatorship, or his controversial agreement he struck with Iran over its nuclear program, a deal Republicans have vehemently opposed.
That praise came on the eve of an incident that saw Navy sailors detained by Iranian authorities, a move Obama declined to mention in his speech.
Prior to the speech, both Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry said they expected the situation to be resolved quickly and peacefully.
Obama continued to echo what has been a theme for his foreign policy throughout his presidency, saying that “American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.”
“Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right,” Obama said. “It means seeing our foreign assistance as part of our national security, not charity.”
“That’s strength. That’s leadership,” he continued. “And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.”
Obama spent the closing section of his final address to Congress looking toward the future, and urging Americans to not become cynical in the political process going forward.
“What I’m asking for is hard. It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter,” Obama said. “But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.”
“We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world,” Obama continued.
“It won’t be easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen — inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far,” Obama said. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
“That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word,” Obama said. “That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future. Because of you. I believe in you. That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.”
Tuesday marked Obama’s final address to Congress during his remaining time in office as election season kicks into high-gear leading up to a general election this November.