This was originally published on joenavarro.weebly.com, reflecting on President Obama’s Last State of the Union Address on January 12, 2016.
President Obama gave an optimistic speech using his prolific oratory style. He addressed a wide range of issues, attempting to direct his message to various sectors of American society. Throughout his speech it was obvious that he had tailored it to a conservative audience, making a point to appear as the great unifier, agreeing to disagree, but not too much. Also making it clear (in Obama’s opinion) that politics in America would be better if there was not so much polarization. He was referring to the hostile political climate in Washington DC between Democrats and Republicans. It was as though he was hoping for a Kumbaya moment, where liberals and conservatives could get along in spite of their politics.
During his speech we saw Obama the liberal and Obama the imperialist. The language swayed back and forth between civil rights and the toughness of America and its military might. He follows a liberal tradition similar to presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, where they were considered champions of civil and democratic rights in the U.S. and pro-working class. On the other hand Franklin was an imperialist, supporting Latin American dictatorships and the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Kennedy attacked Cuba, supported the Bay of Pigs attack, and sent military personnel to Southeast Asia, engaging in an unpopular imperialist war, which polarized people in the U.S., being either pro or anti-war.
Similarly Obama pointed to his victories of achieving the Affordable Care Act, expanding the rights of gays, lesbians and transgendered people, opening diplomatic relations with Cuba and Iran, and he correctly argued that it is wrong to attack Muslims and people from the Arab world. Yet nothing was said about the police murders of African Americans, Native Americans and Raza (people whose racial and ethnic roots are from Mexico, Latin America and Caribbean). Black Lives Matter was completely absent from Obama’s presentation. Other than saying we need a new policy on immigration, nothing was said about the recent raids against Central American immigrants, who may face death, imprisonment and torture upon being returned to their homelands. Nor was anything said about the millions of undocumented immigrants who are in legal limbo, and are often deported or held in prisons even though they’ve committed no crimes.
President Obama was quick to argue that the U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world and warned that if nations mess with us they will have to suffer the consequences. He made no effort to address the thousands of innocent people killed by drone strikes and military bombings by the U.S. and its allies. There was no mention of the U.S. military, CIA and corporate interests in causing instability in the Arab and Muslim world. He bragged about the military might of the U.S. armed forces.
Obama touched on global climate change and took a dig at global climate deniers being out of touch with the people of this nation, the military, business community and 95% of scientists. He claimed a substantive victory at the 2015 conference on global climate change, but failed to mention that most climate change activists have argued that the policy shifts in the international climate change treaty are so insignificant that it will not stop global warming.
One could describe President Obama’s speech as schizophrenic, sounding like a human rights activists and an imperialist aggressor at the same moment. The speech as full of mixed messages, as if it were intended to appease everyone. The disconnect between speaking in favor of civil and human rights domestically, while sending military troops, advisors, training and weapons to other nations appears as sort of an ideological and moral trade-off. It suggests that the price of freedom for Americans (presumably the middle class of all ethnic groups) means that someone must suffer domestically and internationally to make it possible.
Joe Navarro is a Literary Vato Loco, creative writer, poet, educator, and social justice advocate.Download this piece as a PDF