Obama optimistic in address

Published 10:23 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

President Barack Obama struck a legacy-setting tone during his final State of the Union address Tuesday, urging Congress to work on immigration, gun regulations and wage equality and setting a “moonshot” goal of curing cancer.



He spoke at length about America’s military and foreign policy but steered clear of the capture of 10 American sailors by Iranians in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday. The sailors were released Wednesday.

“It’s just so frustrating,” Congressman J. Randy Forbes said Tuesday evening in a phone call to the Suffolk News-Herald after the president’s speech. “We give a hundred billion dollars to a country like Iran that says they’re going to destroy us and destroy our allies. The big news for us is why would you capture them in the first place?”

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Obama was optimistic and upbeat throughout the address, especially when talking about the military.

“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on earth, period,” he said. “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.”

Forbes, in his response, was more concerned about the military. He said America spends so much compared to other nations because it is the only force protecting communications cables, shipping lanes and other international assets on the high seas.

“There is no other nation that does what we do,” Forbes said. “He doesn’t realize some of these other nations can focus very narrowly.”

Forbes said he’s concerned about the U.S. Navy’s potential reduction to 237 ships, “which would make us, according to some of our admirals, a regional power, not a superpower,” Forbes said. He also said 25 percent of the military has been reduced since Obama took office.

On Obama’s general optimism, Forbes said the majority of Americans think differently.

“Outside that room, 68 percent of Americans feel the country’s headed in the wrong direction,” Forbes said. “The president is concerned about his legacy tonight, but they’re concerned about the legacy they’re leaving to their children and their grandchildren.”

Obama focused on four questions during the address: “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy? How do we make technology work for us and not against us? How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman? And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us and not what’s worst?”

Obama got the lead on Forbes and other critics by declaring that America’s economy is fine.

“Anyone claiming America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” he said. “But the economy has been changing in profound ways. Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line but any job where work can be automated.”

He urged lawmakers to fund pre-kindergarten for all and provide two years of community college to everyone at no cost.

“No hardworking student should be stuck in the red,” Obama said.

He also asked Congress to change outdated regulations so that families are favored more than “big banks, big oil and hedge funds.”

On the topic of science and technology — besides the goal of curing cancer — Obama pushed acceptance of climate change and new energy.

“Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world,” he said.

He said he will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo, he said, because “it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”

The president also urged moderation in rhetoric about terrorists.

“As we focus on destroying ISIS, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands,” he said. “That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious. We just need to call them what they are: killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.”

Finally, he encouraged all of the politicians in the room to be more bipartisan.

“If we want better politics, it’s not enough to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president,” he said. “We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

He asked lawmakers to reduce the influence of money in politics and make it easier for people to vote.

“Changes in our political process, not just who gets elected but how they get elected, that will only happen when the American people demand it,” he said.