What’s Left, Being Right: State of the Union


UNITED WE STAND: On both sides of the political spectrum, President Obama’s address was decidedly optimistic. 

State of Stagnation

Sid Wadhera, Class of 2017

President Obama’s State of the Union address was littered with examples of how America has changed over the past 15 years and the six years of his presidency. Yet, the speech itself – while certainly historic – showed that one thing in America has not changed since his presidency: politics.

For six years Americans have seen stagnation in the main ideas presented by both political parties. Even in light of electoral setbacks, the parties themselves seem to have little to no dynamism left in them. Instead, they are fundraising machines that aim to get a particular base riled up enough for the candidate to win an election. So, this piece will parse President Obama’s address and look at how it stays the course of his presidency by providing old-school tax and spend liberal policies and panders to his base. These practices – while well intentioned  – are entirely unhelpful in our current political state.

It begins of course, with President Obama’s idea of “middle-class economics.” For the President, that means taxing wealthy individuals and providing more services to everyone underneath them, including cheaper childcare and free community college. These are all ideas that are excellent in theory but have no chance of being accomplished in reality.  Rather than taking a conciliatory tone and looking at some Republican policy ideas, President Obama has done what he often does: react by turning to the core Democratic ideologies of the past. To be fair to the President, the reaction is much the same on the Republican side. In fact, it is probably worse.

Regardless, this turn to core ideologies also reflects a turn to the core base of the party  – the ideologically rigid, ardent liberals who do not reflect the “median voter.” To this extent he made some historic statements: President Obama was the first to use the terms lesbian, bisexual and transgender in a speech. While he ought to be lauded for including a marginalized community, the move itself reflects less of an inclusive spirit, and more of a political obeisance to one of his core constituencies. The same can be taken from his statements regarding Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other minorities. Unfortunately, these are the sorts of statements that lead Republicans to believe that the president is fundamentally different from, and anathema to their worldview.

So for the Obama presidency, this State of the Union should have not been a surprise to anyone; it depicted a continuity of politics in the Obama era, filled with regression to antiquated policy ideas and blatant pandering to the party base. Democracies are prided most for their political dynamism; it is the free exchange of ideas that results in the best policies that makes a nation great. America today has stagnated. The ideas  – on both sides of the aisle  – are no longer new. And while the president goes abroad to make his legacy in the international arena, Congress continues to churn out the same dysfunction it has been pushing forward for years. The state of the union may be strong, but the state of the union’s politics is weak. Perhaps like the economy, we have entered a state of stagnation. The only policy to end this stagnation is the renewed political engagement of the American people.


What’s Missing

Olibia Detato, Class of 2017

In the State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his goals for the remainder of his term. Even as he begins his seventh year as president, he addressed the Republican-controlled Congress with much enthusiasm. The tone of the speech was optimistic despite the fact that the United States is still not as economically successful as it was in pre-recession times.

One of the major points that President Obama emphasized was the availability and affordability of a college education. I strongly agree with the fact that future generations need to be prepared for jobs in the ever-changing economy. In fact in the previous generation, when college graduates became more commonplace, we saw the most economic mobility ever experienced in America. In his speech, Obama proposed reducing the price of community college to nothing. While it seems like a good idea on principle, it is far too idealistic. With this idea, President Obama is purporting the ideology that a college education is a right and not a privilege for those that work hard throughout high school. What will be the value of an associate’s degree if everyone is entitled to go to community college? In this scenario, a two-year college education is meaningless. 

Furthermore, I took issue with the fact that President Obama neglected to mention a balanced budget. In fact in almost every idea that Obama proposed, it was easy to see the dollar signs adding up. Over the course of the Obama presidency, excessive spending was no object of concern. Today this is still the case. He stated that childcare should be more readily available and community college more accessible. President Obama also stated that he wants to ensure fair pay for women, including paid maternity leave. In addition, he wants to raise the minimum wage. A great portion of the speech centered around everyone getting a fair shot with a level playing field. Obama pushed for closing loopholes in the tax code that would ensure that “each American pays their fair share of taxes.” President Obama continues to plot rich against poor by stating that he wants to reform the tax code and close loopholes.  

I also took issue with the fact that he failed to mention ISIS and terrorism in great detail. President Obama dedicated a mere two minutes to discussing the threat that terrorism poses to the safety of the United States. The President reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to human rights by stating that he stopped the torture of war prisoners and criminals that engaged in terrorism against the U.S. He stated that torture is un-American, and the United States’ resolve to support human dignity is the right thing to do. Yet President Obama is planning on opening discussions with countries that do not support human rights. In fact, Obama’s agenda seems a bit contradictory as he claimed that he is going to continue to open discussions with Cuba and Iran, two countries that do not support human dignity and rights. The President even went as far as to claim that he would thwart any attempt at closing discussions with Cuba. In response to President Obama’s address, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) responded, “Instead of rewarding repressive, anti-American regimes like Cuba and Iran with undeserved concessions that legitimize and enrich them, [Obama] should condition normalized relations on real, irreversible results that protect U.S. national security interests, safeguard human rights and ensure greater political freedoms.”

Lastly, the State of the Union Address was not lacking in President Obama’s usual bravado as he stated, “I have no more campaigns to run–I know, because I won both of ‘em. My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol–to do what I believe is best for America.” While this statement drew uproarious applause, even a standing ovation from those in favor, many were stunned with silence. While President Obama’s second term begins to wind down, it is clear that he is still playing politics. His speech drew a lot of applause but failed to define anything meaningful.