Barack Obama has finished 87 percent of the mission to which the American electorate assigned him with overwhelming mandates in 2008 and 2012. But he is not prepared to coast cautiously or quietly through the last of his eight years as president.
Obama’s final State of the Union address left no doubt that he intends to give 100 percent in the final 12 months of his second term. And he started doing so on Tuesday night.
Obama recognized that, while it is important for purposes of history and politics to reflect on what has been accomplished since January 20, 2009, it is even more important to focus on what can and must be accomplished before January 20, 2017.
“I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse—and heroin. We just might surprise the cynics again,” he told Republican members of Congress, adding that he wanted to work on an agenda that extended “from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients. And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing. Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done.”
The pressure to “do the right thing” is real—and immediate.
At a point when the race to replace him is as volatile as it is unsettled, Obama cannot simply presume that he will be turning the Oval Office over to another Democrat following the 2016 campaign. As politically agile and engaged as any president in modern times—he is the first Democrat to win a majority vote in two successive presidential races since Franklin Delano Roosevelt—Obama knows that what he does in coming months could influence the presidential contest.
And he used his State of the Union address to do just that.
“The future we want—opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids—all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates,” said Obama, who added that
It will only happen if we fix our politics.
A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and imperatives of security.