It was a speech that was by turns soaring and succinct, optimistic and realistic. By the time President Barack Obama finished his final State of the Union address Tuesday night, he had laid out goals for his final year in office and beyond, and offered an emphatic declaration of the country's economic and small-business strength.
In the one-hour address, Obama said the United States is the most powerful and durable economy in the world. Over the last eight years, the president said, the nation has rebounded from the depths of the recession, and produced 14 million jobs, including nearly 1 million new jobs in manufacturing. "In this new economy, workers and startups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less," he said.
While the speech returned to the early themes of hope and collaboration that swept Obama to the White House in 2008 on a wave of populist demand for change, the president also sounded a note of caution about the future, and suggested that American innovation and entrepreneurship would lead the way forward.
"That spirit of discovery is in our DNA," the president said. "America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better future."
Here are four other key takeaways from the State of the Union.
1. The wage gap
Despite the country's economic strength, not everyone is feeling prosperous. The president issued a warning about allowing the schism between the country's wealthiest and poorest to grow larger. "Workers have less leverage for a raise," Obama said. "Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top." The speech mentioned solutions including increasing the minimum wage, making college affordable, and offering free community college for two years, all themes the president has advocated for years.
2. Strengthen social safety nets
"It's not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and a retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber," the president quipped. Workers who lose their jobs need new programs that include retraining and wage insurance, which would supplement for lower-paying jobs, he said. Low-income workers without children would be eligible for a tax break. At the same time, the president said, he'd strengthen the Social Security and Medicare programs.
3. End hyper-partisanship and scapegoating
The president acknowledged that his greatest failing as president has been his inability to end the partisan rancor that has hobbled government, and at times imperiled the economy by causing skirmishes over the national debt ceiling and annual budgets. Obama invoked a spirit of cooperation and elevated debate, and critiqued Republican candidates for scapegoating immigrants and proposing violent solutions to world problems."Our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians," the president said. "That may work as a TV soundbite, but it doesn't pass muster on the world stage."
4. Power to the people (and entrepreneurs)
The president's final address repeatedly summoned big U.S. ideals, including a grand spirit of cooperation and more participation by small business owners and citizens in government to make positive social changes. "We need every American to stay active in our public life," Obama said. "Our brand of democracy is hard."