On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to Congress. In a departure from the traditional formula for a State of the Union address, President Obama focused less on specific programs and policies that he wanted Congress to approve and instead emphasized what he argues are his administration's greatest accomplishments of the last eight years and the challenges facing the nation for the next few decades.
The President highlighted four main challenges: the unintended impact of technological change, ensuring economic opportunity for everyone, keeping the nation safe and fixing what he termed the nation's "broken" political process. President Obama also repeatedly stressed that the nation's security and economy were stronger than his political opponents have been expressing in public statements.
Obama mentioned only a few specific requests from Congress, most significant among them was to ask for the passage of a bill granting the authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and against the self-described "Islamic State" or Daesh. The President also requested that Congress approve the multi-lateral trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the key achievement in the Obama Administration's trade policy.
President Obama also stressed a message of religious and cultural tolerance that was echoed in the Republican response to the State of the Union, delivered by Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina. Much like President Obama, Governor Haley, in her response, spoke of the erosion of the public's trust in our nation's political system and leaders and placed equal blame on Republicans and Democrats.
She stressed the need for immigration reform, for allowing our economy to grow and innovate, and the need for our country to come together and listen to one another. Governor Haley also touched on the increasing costs of healthcare after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the threat of terrorism the US is experiencing today. Not unlike President Obama, she ended on the idea of keeping America the greatest country in the world.
Despite the focus on the long term future of the country, more immediate concerns such as the upcoming 2016 presidential elections loomed large over this year's speech, with the President making several allusions to the pressure that the election is already putting on policymakers in a shortened Congressional calendar.