President Obama's final State of the Union address was last night. Apparently fewer people than ever are watching State of the Union addresses, but I'm one of them. Sort of, anyway - I had my DVR record it and put it the next morning. That way I could skip all the talking heads before and after the actual speech.
What I do want is to listen to the President give a speech, and I must say, I'm going to miss Barack Obama on that count. He's a fine orator, and I can't think of anyone in the current field of 2016 presidential hopefuls who will even come close in sheer public-speaking talent.
As for the actual content of the speech, well, that's covered to death all over the Internet. What the President spend the most time on. Fact checking. Applause tracking. The economy, the military, the political process. He avoided asking for Congressional action for the most part, which I thought was a smart move since such things aren't likely to get done anyhow. Especially in a presidential election year.
The part of the speech that I most agreed with was near the end, when the President talked about changing the political process. The future that we all want "will only happen if we fix our politics." We don't have to agree on everything, but "democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us." It "breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest." He mentioned reform for campaign finance, gerrymandering, and making voting easier (things I've talked about before). And he called on the American people to demand these things of their government.
I also listened to the Republican response, delivered by South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. The opposition response always feels much less impressive, coming as it does right after the big speech, and this one was no exception. Leaving aside the surroundings, it was an adequate response, at least until it went into standard rhetoric at the end. I liked the bit where Gov. Haley said that it wasn't just the fault of the Democrats that the country faces problems, that "there is more than enough blame to go around." And she said some nice things about the response in South Carolina to the shootings. "...our people would not allow hate to win. We didn't have violence, we had vigils. We didn't have riots, we had hugs. We didn't turn against each other's race or religion. We turned toward God, and to the values that have long made our country the freest and greatest in the world." But then she hammered on why a Republican should win the White House in 2016, listing unrealistic policies like lowering taxes while still cutting the deficit, strengthening the US military (which is already by far the strongest anywhere), or ending "a disastrous health care program" (for-profit motives in the health care industry are the real disaster).
So, that's over for another year. I hope people will heed President Obama's call to action on political reform, but realism tells me it's highly unlikely. At least it was nice to hear those things said. Next year, it'll be someone new delivering the speech. Whoever it is, I expect there will be a very different tone.