President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address, primarily written in a windowless room in the White House by head speechwriter Cody Keenan, tackled the polarization of Washington, while touting the various successes of the last seven years.
The messages of hope and change resurfaced just in time for the 2016 election.
The GOP will contest many assertions made in the address. In the official Republican response to the speech, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley remarked: “The President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words.” Adding to the bleak picture, she spoke of “chaotic unrest in many of our cities.”
A great opportunity to upend a Hillary Clinton candidacy will be to attack Barack Obama’s record, continuously and without respite. The Republicans have done this for years, will continue on the campaign trail. Attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders on Obama’s record will be a more difficult task.
Conversely, President Barack Obama will be a powerful asset for the eventual Democratic nominee when motivating the base. The personal, relatable Obama whom we met at the 2004 Democratic Convention and then again on the campaign trail in 2007 and 2008, was at the podium last night -- granted with more poise and significantly grayer hair.
In the speech, he made clear reference to GOP presidential contenders Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. He called on American citizens to “reject any politics, any politics, that targets people because of race or religion.” He continued that doing so betrays “who we are as a country” and “diminishes us in the eyes of the world.”
When discussing the fight against ISIL and the threat of Islamic terrorism, he invoked the examples of Vietnam and Iraq as harbingers of what intense military involvement in foreign countries can bring -- defending, in part, his own unwillingness to remain heavily committed on the ground.
He ridiculed Cruz’s strategy of carpet bombing civilians, adding that there will always be instability around the world offering safe havens for terrorists.
The speech closed on an issue that has dogged the President and Washington, D.C., over his seven years in office: partisanship. “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency: that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”
During a time of such stark disagreement between the parties, compromise was never a rallying call, particularly for Republicans. At some point, however, the wheels of government will have to start turning again.
As the President observed near the end of his speech: “Democracy grinds to a halt … when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.”