For his eighth and final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama kept his promise to do something different. Instead of pitching policies to Congress, the first Black president of the United States promoted his own legacy and talked about his hopes for “the next five years, 10 years and beyond.” Here are seven significant moments from the hourlong speech:
1. Obama blamed the 2008 financial crash on “recklessness on Wall Street,” not “food stamp recipients.”
“After years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity, or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil, or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense. Middle class families are not going to feel more secure because we allow attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered. Food stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis. Recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.”
2. He celebrated American military might and exceptionalism but eschewed nation-building.
“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. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world … when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead—they call us. …We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq—and we should have learned it by now.
As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. … We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.”
3. He dared Congress to send in troops to fight ISIL.
“If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote. But 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 that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell. When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”
4. He took a not-so-subtle jab at Donald Trump:
“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. …When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”
5. He poked fun at climate-change deniers and framed clean energy as an American business opportunity.
Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it. But even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record—until 2015 turned out even hotter—why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?
6. He claimed the American economy is not falling apart:
“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction. What is true—and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious—is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit and haven’t let up. Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated. Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.
All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing. It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to. And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.
For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works better for everybody. We’ve made progress. But we need to make more. And despite all the political arguments we’ve had these past few years, there are some areas where Americans broadly agree.”
7. He made a pitch for unity across race, sexuality, national origin and political parties.
“Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen—inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word—voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
Click here to read the full transcript from The White House.