US 'most durable economy in the world' – Obama in his last SOTU
President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address on Capitol Hill focused on the economy, technology, keeping America safe “without becoming the world’s policeman,” and how to make the country’s politics “the best in us, and not what’s worst.”
President Obama said he wanted to talk about the next five years, 10 years and beyond: “I want to focus on our future.”
The first part of Obama's speech referenced his administration’s achievements, with unemployment cut in half, nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years, and a strong economy.
Obama said anyone claiming America’s economy is in decline “is peddling fiction,” but he did acknowledge that Americans feel anxious because the economy has changed along with technology.
He said technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, “but any job where work can be automated.” He said workers have less leverage for a pay raise as companies in a global economy can locate anywhere and “face tougher competition.”
Obama said that 60 years ago, “the Russians beat us into space,” but that didn’t deter the US from creating a space program or from “walking on the moon.” He said he was announcing a new national effort, led by Vice President Joe Biden: “A new moonshot” for “America to cure cancer,” by giving the National Institutes of Health “the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade.”
Obama said Social Security and Medicare were more important than ever, and that the programs should be strengthened, not weakened. He argued the Affordable Care Act was all about filling the gaps in employer-based care, and noted that nearly 18 million people "have gained coverage so far."
"Now, I'm guessing we won't agree on health care anytime soon," he said. "But there should be other ways both parties on improve economic security."
Elsewhere, Obama said little about immigration apart from declaring his desire to fix "our broken immigration system."
“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined,” Obama said to thunderous applause.
Obama said that no nation dared attack the US or its allies because "they know that’s the path to ruin."
On the changing security threat, Obama said: “In today’s world, we are threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states." The Middle East is going through a transformation that “will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.”
“We need to focus on destroying ISIL,” he added, referring to terror group Islamic State (IS, also previously known as ISIS). The president said the terrorists “need to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed,” but that Congress also needs to be serious about “winning the war.”
Obama said the American-led a coalition of more than 60 countries has cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupted their plots and stamped out their “vicious ideology” with nearly 10,000 air strikes.
He said the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.
“If you doubt America’s commitment – or mine – to see justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden,” Obama said.
The prepared remarks made no mention about the holding of two US navy vessels by Iran on Tuesday afternoon.
But Obama’s speech did refer to the global coalition built “with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” Referring to rolling back Tehran's nuclear program,he argued that the country was “shipping out its uranium stockpile” and that the nuclear agreement would “avoid another war.”
Meanwhile, Obama reiterated that he will keep trying to shut down the prison at Guantanamo. “It’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”
Swipes at Republicans
While Obama didn't single out Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his controversial and racist statements by name, he was blunt in his critiques.
Obama said America needed to reject any politics that target people because or race or religion. It is not a matter of political correctness, but "a matter of understanding," he said.
“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer," Obama said. "That not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world."
State of the Union sideshow
While many were focused on the content of Obama's speech, perhaps more were smitten with the reactions of the people behind him. When Obama noted political opponents wouldn't agree with him about health care, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan agreed.
This was also Ryan's first State of the Union as Speaker, so social media followers paid attention to his every expression, or lack thereof.
While the White House said the speech was going to be short, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio reacted otherwise.
Trump also tweeted that the Iran deal was "terrible," asking why the US didn't get the uranium stockpile, and generally was critical of Obama's last State of the Union.