As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union Address on Tuesday evening, let’s reflect on some of his past speeches.
Do you remember the time the president stood up for Voting Rights and gave a shout out to activists in Ferguson and New York City during his address in 2015?
“We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American. (1:05:09 mark)
We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”
What about when the president told Congress, “I have no more campaigns to run”?
Frustrated by a restrictive Republican Congress, President Obama threw down the gauntlet in 2015.
“I have no more campaigns to run,” he said. (1:06:44 mark) “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. If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, join me in the work at hand. If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree. And I commit to every Republican here tonight that I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.”
In 2014, amid a long-running feud with Republican lawmakers over the budget, President Obama called out the lawmakers for their obstructionist tactics.
“The question for everyone in this chamber, (3:44 mark) running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress,” he said. “For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding.
“But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people.”
In 2013, President Obama pledged to tackle climate change during his first address after re-election.
“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change (18:09 mark). Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”
Also in 2013, the president vowed to address gun violence, referencing Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down in Chicago after attending his inaugural events in 2013.
“Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun,” the president said, according to a transcript at Politico.
“One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old,. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.
“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.”
The president also noted that Gabby Giffords and the families of Aurora and Newtown deserved a vote.
The president told the story of strength and courage in the form of 102-year-old Desiline Victor of North Miami, Florida in 2013.
“When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours,” he said, according to a transcript at Politico.”And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted.’”
Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform in 2012.
“I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.”
During his first address to Congress in 2010, President Obama took a swipe at the Supreme Court for its 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, according to CNN.
The decision removed legal barriers that barred corporations and unions from spending unlimited amounts of money to influence voters in political campaigns, CNN wrote:
“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama told a packed House of Representatives chamber.
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.”
Justice Samuel Alito, part of the court’s conservative majority, could be seen apparently frowning and quietly mouthing the words “not true.”
What were your favorite moments from the president’s State of the Union Addresses over the years?