Obama offers vision in final State of the Union

Vice President Joe Biden, left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin applaud President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)
Vice President Joe Biden, left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin applaud President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

For his final State of the Union, the president did not arrive at the Capitol Building to lecture on policy. Instead,  a seemingly relaxed and even joking president gave a speech that echoed the same hopeful expectations, and goals of his 2008 campaign. 

After almost eight years, through all the partisan clashes, it was still his promise of change that carried the speech. It wasn’t the change of direction he offered the nation in 2008, or even change of his own making, but rather the change that he believes has always been at the heart of the American democratic system. 

President Obama used his State of the Union as an opportunity to present his case to the nation that, under his leadership, the nation emerged from the other side of the brink and was stronger than ever.  

In his 58-minute speech, his real first point focused on the economy. Despite the criticism he has weathered for its sluggish recovery, Obama found solace in what he referred to as  “a basic fact: the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.”

Touting the creation of 14 million jobs, a slashed unemployment rate — the rate was 9.9 percent in December 2009 and 5 percent in December 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and a manufacturing surge, he accused those saying the economy was in decline of “peddling fiction.” 

In the Washington Post’s fact check of the speech, the newspaper found that the president’s numbers were appropriate, even if their significance was inflated; by comparison, Bill Clinton had created 21.2 million jobs and Ronald Reagan had created 12.7 million by this point in their presidencies. 

Nina Boski, a DePaul freshman, appreciated that “most of his plans were for the long-term, and a lot of people weren’t happy with the short-term results. Americans are always disappointed if they don’t get results right away.”

The next major milestone of the speech was the Obama Administration’s efforts towards combating climate change. He jabbed lightly at climate change deniers, inviting anyone still disputing climate change to “have at it,” as he cited the American military, business community, scientific community, and even a majority of the American public are accepting that climate change is a real concern.

Obama also talked about investments in clean energy that seemed to be paying off after seven years. American companies would get the opportunity to produce and sell energy for the future, which is an opportunity that America could not pass up. 

During the speech, Obama made it clear that he’s been keeping close tabs on the race to replace him with several references to the comments of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and other Republicans seeking the White House. The president sought to reassure the highly anxious public of America’s military dominance and zeal to eliminate terrorists across the globe.

He criticized proposals to bar Muslim immigration into the country, and warned candidates away from fear mongering and mocked “TV sound bites” that called for carpet-bombing civilians. 

A careful marriage of the cerebral, eloquent and impassioned equated to Obama’s final few points, wherein he prescribed how to attain what he called “the future we want,” echoing again the hopes of his 2008 run for the White House. The question came alongside a humble admission. He failed to bring about the transformation he had promised to the American political system. He said “one of the few regrets of my presidency” was that “the rancor and suspicion between parties (had) gotten worse instead of better.” But despite its continued polarization, change continued to rock the political world. 

“I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people,” Obama said.  

It was a speech that fixated on the past for the sake of the future or, on his legacy. Speculation aside, it’s difficult (or impossible) to know what historians will one day say about our 44th president until we know who the 45th will be.

As the president prepares to step down, his poll numbers show that he has regained some approval. His job approval rating, according to a recent Gallup poll shows that 49 percent of Americans approve. In comparison, George W. Bush at this point in his presidency, was at 33 percent. On his overall job as president, he currently has a 47 percent approval rating.

Obama announced in recent weeks plans to address the gun violence epidemic in America and, over the summer, he announced ways to decrease America’s carbon footprint and plans for clean jobs .

Sharazazi Dyson and Jerome Dotson, also students, said they understood the disconnect between what Americans wanted from Obama and what they got, but were appreciative nonetheless. Dyson shared that she knew several people from her community who directly benefited from the Affordable Care Act, while Dotson echoed a sentiment similar to Obama’s.

“I don’t think he got the change he expected to see. Really, society took a turn I don’t think anyone in America was expecting,” Dotson said. “I really am proud of America, and how we stepped up and used our voices in the past couple of years.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Nicole Been, president of DePaul’s College Republicans, admitted that things could have been worse. 

“The world didn’t disintegrate, the Anti-Christ didn’t come,” she said. “But I do think that this presidency was a set-up for the future end of the world. Digression of morals, socially, you know.” 

Another member of College Republicans, John Minister, said he thought the president did “a damn good job” of transforming the country like he’d promised in 2008, even if he didn’t agree with all of the transformations.

“He’s been one of the more effective Democratic presidents in a while, but it’s not there yet,” Minster said. “He needs someone else to finish the job.”