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This time with feeling: Obama's State of the Union

AIt may be the case that a President waits until his re-election to begin carving a legacy. Such an attempt may involve quietly moving on from mistakes, or in Obama’s case beginning to define what kind of a President he wants be remembered as. Many topics were covered in the State of the Union, but a few stand out as indicators of what is to come from the White House over the next four years.

Throughout the hour-long address, the strongest emphasis was on bi-partisan cooperation to achieve various goals, although this may be an attempt to achieve more sympathy among the American public after the budget battles that Congress regularly create. The President stressed the idea of “smarter, not bigger, government” which seems again to be the order of the day for reorganising and reforming various parts of the American system.

Overall there was something vaguely reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s speeches, especially when Obama suggested reforms that benefit the many not the few, and the focus on improving American infrastructure to reignite the economy.

Interestingly from the point of Obama’s legacy, it is becoming clear that domestic recovery through reform is his current objective. If he were able to get the US economy moving again it would perhaps cement the most positive legacy a world leader could have in the desperate economic climes that have become normal in the second decade of the 21st century. Green Energy, innovation in technology and encouraging companies to relocate back to American shores were all emphasised as methods of job creation that are, and will be, happening.

Perhaps under the guises of bi-partisanship, the President also announced comprehensive immigration reform. This would involve more border security, but also streamlining the path to legal citizenship. This may be an attempt to encourage better relationships with southern Republicans, or a way to gain a larger share of Congress in the future, but only time will tell and for now the President’s wider agenda will be struggling in different quarters to gain momentum.

Turning the attention to defence, it would appear that Obama’s rhetoric and agenda has, and for the foreseeable future, will not change. References were made regarding the actual and potential nuclear capabilities of North Korea and Iran, while suggesting that cooperation with Russia to reduce the number of US warheads would be on the agenda. Cyber terrorism was also given an important mention as the President’s focus shifted to emphasise that threats were still real and omnipresent.

The trans-Atlantic free trade proposition will no doubt be welcomed both in the US and Europe as a way of encouraging growth, and may improve the American image on this side of the Atlantic. Somewhat controversially the President stated that he would work to ensure all members, and families, of the Armed forced would receive the same benefits – specifying gay or straight – but it will likely lead to a renewed battle in congress over the legal status of same-sex couples.

Finally, the most probable sticking point in cementing Obama’s legacy is gun control. There were green ribbons being worn by members of Congress and guests attending the State of the Union in memory of the victims of gun violence. Only in the last five minutes of the hour long speech did the President give a moving and specific outline of the plan to reform firearms legislation. The focus was on common sense reforms such as more detailed background checks, but the real substance of this issue was the reduction in the size of clips and the range of ‘war weapons’ available. Obama realises it will not be easy to achieve reform, but his emphasis was on the issue deserving a vote in congress, specifically referencing victims of recent shootings suggesting “they deserve a vote.”

It could be said of Obama’s first term that a maelstrom of economic woes and eruption of foreign policy issues overshadowed attempts to make real progress. In four years, it may be said of his second term that reform was a hard road, but one that has created a memorable Presidency.

BY: Sam wood