By Dan Eckert
Student Writer

And so, 2015 has begun: a year many hope will bring good fortune, the return of a strong economy, and perhaps a more productive Congress. Fortunately for President Obama, the economy is holding strong and, within the court of public opinion, his approval ratings have soared to 50% for the first time since 2013. The President seems to be doing all he can with his new found return in popularity. Determined to avoid being a lame duck, his State of the Union address was stacked with politically charged legislative plans.

The President looked energized as he opened the evening. As he recounted the recent victories of his office, a younger, yet assured, version of himself emerged. Touting economic recovery with a low 5.6% unemployment rate, record high stock market, and all-time low gas prices cemented his successes and energized a base of Democrats and Republicans. 15 years into the 2000s, the Democrat President recounted costly wars ended, pre- and post-crisis American recovery trajectories, and hopeful plans for the future. Pointedly, he asserted that while many derided his decisions, America has created 11 million new jobs, returned to 1999-era economic strength, and has re-energized its space program. This “I-told-you-so” moment was not lost on the Republicans present, who declined to offer a standing ovation.

To illustrate his points, Obama called on the illustration of two young Americans, seated with his wife, whom exemplified the American spirit and recovery. “The State of the Union is strong,”the President intoned, and “…the future is bright.”

The President then began to lay the groundwork for his remaining time in office. He called for equal pay for women, equal rights for LGBTQ individuals, advanced American infrastructure, maternity leave paid for by employers, free college, and safe guards for the economy and US relations. He cautioned that attempts to change the Affordable Health Care Act would be met with a veto; this, he claims, is a power the American people have earned.

The President then turned his attention to Cuba and Iran. Evoking the Pope’s message of small steps, President Obama cautioned congressional leaders not to undo progress made at great expense. Moving along at a swift and impassioned pace, the President called for the closure of Guantanamo prison, continued Iranian negotiations, and an end to the climate change debate. Finally, he closed with a call to Congress to work together, to work as Americans, to help Americans, and to work with him. Divided politics, a theme on capital hill, took center stage many times in the State of the Union address…and for good reason.

The astute reader will notice that the above are projects the President has campaigned for, campaigned on, and worked towards for the past two terms. It would be naive to presume that an impassioned speech will change a six-year-old congressional gridlock. This is the genius of tonight’s State of the Union. The President has clearly engaged in campaign mode, and all of this year’s efforts will likely be placed into setting the stage for a Democratic president in 2016. While the mid-term elections were largely dominated by Republicans, many issues that the President presented this evening scored favorably with voters.

By stacking his 2016 legislation with favorable issues, but issues that the Republican Congress cannot vote for without offending their base, he forces Congress to inaction. This inaction will anger voters, painting the GOP in a poor light and putting them on the defensive in 2016. If Congress acts favorably on his legislation, the President becomes the President who helped Congress get along, and gains the legislation he desired. The former is certainly more likely to be the outcome of last night’s State of the Union, and the President announced he will be campaigning for his ideas within two weeks.

While we emerge from January and into the greater part of the year, Americans will be watching both parties, Congress, the Senate, and the White House with great attention. As 2016 looms ever closer, the accomplishments of this year will greatly impact the party affiliation of our next sitting President.

The State of the Union is strong, yet gridlock appears to be as prevalent as ever. Last night’s address was positive proof of two embattled parties, neither of which are willing to let go of a political football in the name of playing nice. However, the President’s optimism was palpable and infectious. Riding high on political, economic, and military victories, President Obama will be a formidable foe on the campaign trail within the coming weeks. At one point this evening, the president proclaimed that this year was his last in office, a statement met by cheers from congressional Republicans. The President turned, winked, and offered: “I know this because I won…twice.” Only time will tell if the President can turn two wins into three, and secure public support for his new initiatives and ultimately his successor.

For now, however, America is recovering and, with our help, will continue to grow. Regardless of political affiliation or goals, many will agree that “the State of the Union is strong.” Perhaps the future might even be bright.


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