On Tuesday evening, President Obama gave his final state of the union address. In terms of content, it was equal parts reflection, and looking towards the future of the country. Although he opened with a few jabs about the upcoming Iowa caucuses, the address did some serious projecting. Basking in the accomplishments of his administration for the past 7 years, President Obama noted progress on matters like marriage equality and the economic recovery from the 2008 crash. While not explicitly passing the baton to either Hillary or Bernie, the remarks of President Obama made sent a clear message to the Democrats and their surrogates. There is more work to be done, and the country should not be pushed back in the spirit of hate and bigotry.
While President Obama did not mention Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by name, everyone knew that he was being called out. In saying that anti-Muslim comments are “just wrong”, the President’s intent was to push back on Islamophobia that the GOP frontrunner is using. Considering the environment of hate we find ourselves in now, that was absolutely necessary. What I also was glad to hear was some defense of the economically disadvantaged. When President Obama said, “Food stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis”, that resonated. It should be obvious, but it needed to be said explicitly. Obama also mentioned the necessity of making college affordable for every American. This is a laudable goal. So is the anti-cancer initiative that he announced. He also spoke against redistricting, and voter suppression. The question that is now on the table is how to fight for all of these concerns. Now, the how will soon no longer be his concern.
With President Obama now in the last year of his presidency, this address was something of a send-off, and a wrap-up. As a writer who has critiqued President Obama from the left, even I have to admit that he has navigated a lot of obstructions and disrespect gracefully. These concerted efforts would have discouraged the aspirations of all but the most determined. As an observer of politics, one must realize that presidents to a certain extent have to speak in generalities. Moving through the corridors of power is different from screaming truth in the direction of power. With this said, it is still necessary to point out what was not mentioned or emphasized enough.
The President said that the economy is better and that we have recovered from the crisis. I’m not so sure about all that. To this writer, from my vantage point, things feel pretty stagnant.
In a speech that was over an hour, there was no mention of the Oregon militiamen and their armed takeover of a federal building. The media coddling of this group is sickening. While this particular band of snack devoid misfits aren’t threatening anyone but themselves, this softball approach can encourage and embolden copycats. There is a right-wing polarization in this country that is dangerous to people of color in general, and particularly those of Islamic faith as well. It’s politically expedient to speak on hate and call for the country to not indulge in Islamophobia for electoral purposes, but when armed thugs take over federal property, not a word?
Also, a matter that went without mention is the water poisoning situation in Flint, Michigan. That would have been a great opportunity to talk about the need to build up the nation’s infrastructure. This has been going on for a while now, and things have gotten far worse with news about a Legionaire’s outbreak. It is unbelievable how the economic imperative to save money has adversely affected public health in such a horrible way.
While I mentioned what President Obama did not talk about, to be fair, let’s also talk about what he did speak on. I don’t know if anyone else picked up on it, but there was a great deal of militaristic bravado in this speech. President Obama veered from boasting to saber-rattling. Threatening all opponents of America by saying that if you doubt our will to come after you “Ask Osama Bin Laden” In addition to bragging about offing Bin Laden, the President also spoke about the superior military power of the country. In noting that no one dares attack the United States directly, he said that it would be a “path to ruin” That’s some pretty blatant saber-rattling. He might as well have said: “Y’all really don’t want it.”
There was a point in the speech where he also said “Our reach has no limits” Which is another way of saying “if you mess around, them drones are coming for you” Damn. For those who may think that I am harping on this too much, just consider the juxtaposition. Don’t you find it a little off putting that the President can quote the non-violent slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in one moment, and in another brag about 10,000 air strikes? Does that sit well with you? Airstrikes are pretty indiscriminate and savage, maiming and killing anyone who happens to just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even those allegedly pin point accurate drone strikes end up killing innocent people much of the time. This was a really guttural portion of the state of the union speech to me. While of course, it was politically clever to mention Martin Luther King before this weekend, the contradiction could not be clearer. While President Obama alluded to Black Lives Matter, in the speech I feel he sort of equated the role of the protestor and the police. When in reality, it’s “not even close.”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but while I understand why people only want to see the good in the Obama Administration, I can’t totally let it rock. While we are witnessing another election cycle begin, the history of this administration is already being written. It feels kind of funny seeing all of these eleventh-hour books on the Obama years from people who are now saying critical things when they were either silent or co-signing for the past seven. It feels after the fact, and it truly is. While Black America, in particular, will have to reckon with some sort of post-Obama agenda, part of that is telling the truth about the impact of his presidency. It’s an endeavor that some don’t have the stomach for, but seriously, anything else would truly be “peddling fiction”