A Civics Lesson in President Obama’s Final State of the Union Address

On January 13, 2016, President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union Address to the U.S. Congress and the American People.[1] It included a general civics lesson that is now a general theme of many of his speeches this year, the final one of his presidency. Below a photograph of the President on this occasion.

Ste Union

A similar civics lesson was contained in his May 7 commencement speech at Howard University that was discussed in a previous post and in his February 10 speech to the Illinois General Assembly and his April 23 comments to a Town Hall meeting in the United Kingdom, both of which will be reviewed in subsequent posts. Here then is the civics lesson in his final State of the Union Address

Introduction

“[I]f we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

Improve congressional redistricting

We have “to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it.”

Reduce influence of money in politics

“We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections. And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution — because it’s a problem.”

Make voting easier

“We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder. We need to modernize it for the way we live now. This is America: We want to make it easier for people to participate.”

Importance of these changes

“What I’m suggesting is hard. It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure. And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.”

“We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want. It will not produce the security we want. But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.”

“So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it — our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties 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.”

“We need every American to stay active in our public life — and not just during election time — so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day.”

“It is not easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that 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 Democrat or Republican, 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.”

“That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Undaunted by challenge. 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 change because I believe in you, the American people.”

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[1] White House, Remarks of President Barack Obama—State of the Union Address—As Delivered (Jan. 13, 2016).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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