A grand finale is defined as “a very exciting or impressive ending of a performance.” Last Tuesday night, President Barack Hussein Obama gave his final State of the Union address. This was his farewell discourse to Congress:
“Tonight marks the eighth year I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.
But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to talk just about the next year. I want to focus on the next five years, ten years, and beyond.
“Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters. Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction. 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.
“We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. And we have to make college affordable for every American. That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them. And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today. That’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about. Nearly eighteen million have gained coverage so far. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.
“I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy. I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut. But we can do so much more. Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer. Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.
“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. “We the People.” Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics. A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did… (but) it doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic.
“Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office. What I’m asking for is hard.
“So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.
“That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future. I believe in you. That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.”
How brilliant of the president – to invoke a phrase made famous by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – “unarmed truth and unconditional love.” Better angels, indeed.
Love him or not, it cannot be denied that he is a consequential president. As the first African-American to hold our highest office, he will always matter. Happy Birthday, Dr. King. And thank you, President Obama. I wish you Godspeed throughout your grand finale.