Editors' 'Hot Takes' on the 2016 State of the Union Address

Curtain Call

The President and the ‘P’ Word
It’s no secret that the plight of the poorest Americans is usually overshadowed by the concerns of the middle class in political pronouncements and priorities. So it is striking that in his seventh and final State of the Union, President Obama mentioned “poverty” twice and “middle class” not once. This could simply reflect the fact that our outgoing president is finally free to step out of campaign mode (or that the middle class is now a minority in the United States.) Nonetheless, his call for bipartisan action on poverty is welcome:

“I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty. America is about giving everybody willing to work a hand up, and I'd welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers without kids.”


Last Friday in Columbia, S.C., Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, together with South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, hosted the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, where six GOP presidential hopefuls outlined their plans for alleviating poverty. While Republicans and Democrats will note likely see eye to eye on government welfare programs anytime soon, a vigorous and ongoing debate about how we can best support our most vulnerable brothers and sisters would be an encouraging change of pace as candidates close in on the primaries and general election.

Ashley McKinless
Associate Editor


The State of the Union Is in Flux
I watched the hour-long State of the Union address with a mixture of  pride and sadness.  I was proud that 8 years ago, when Senator Barack Obama was campaigning in the New Jersey primary and St. Peter’s College, where I was teaching, gave him our gym for his Jersey City rally. At the end I got close enough to him to watch how he dealt personally with the students and neighborhood people who had packed the hall to hear him and now closed in to meet him personally. His address was  both eloquent and intelligent and his decorum with his admirers  was warm and sensitive.

Last night he confessed at the end that he had not been Lincoln or Roosevelt, but—with 17 million  more people with health care, an economic recovery and diplomatic wins in Iran and Cuba—he had much to be proud of.  If the political climate in America has turned nasty the   most of the responsibility goes to the Republican determination to kill every piece of legislation Obama put forward. As a high percentage of the audience stood and cheered, House Speaker Paul Ryan sat glumly on his hands as if he were a statue in another room. Obama’s text was  a master plan for social justice for progressive leaders for the next 20 years—from free college education to curing cancer. Next year I hope Obama runs for the Senate.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.
Literary Editor


A Welcome Lack of Specifics
Undoubtedly, there are those today lamenting the lack of attention paid to their issue in last night’s address: race, immigration, gun rights, abortion, the Middle East, etc. Yet the great value of the speech was it’s lack of specifics. Before we have fruitful discussion on overcoming any issue, we ought to heed the president’s desire for a better politics, to “change the system to reflect our better selves.”

Zac Davis
Editorial Assistant


The Calisthenics of Dysfunction
Watching a State of the Union Address is an exercise in viewing how dysfunctional our government really is. On that one night a year, the American people get to really see how “bipolar” our political system has become. Instead of coming together in unity, we see one party rising to give a standing ovation to the points they agree with, while the other party sits on their hands and scowls at anything suggested that benefits the ordinary American and not the special interests.

It is a disgraceful spectacle, this false panorama of the leaders of one party appearing to applaud the president of the other party, when all the while they scheme to thwart his initiatives at every turn, even when they may even agree with some things that are being said. They may talk about doing the “people’s business” when all they do is giving them “the business.”

The looks on the new speaker’s face said it all: he and the members of his party are not really interested in the people’s welfare, but their own. They do not care that it was ordinary people that voted them into office; as the president said, the only ones who have the same job for 30 years with security and benefits are politicians and they can get the “system” to do their will while they wrap themselves in cloying patriotism when they are so busy fundraising for their reelection.

Joseph McAuley
Assistant Editor


Francis Citing
Obama cited Pope Francis last night, the second time in a row he has deployed the pontiff during the state of the union address (h/t Chris Kerr). Last year, the president introduced his Cuba initiative with a Franciscan line about diplomacy being “the work of ‘small steps.’” This time he went full Francis to scold U.S. politicians about the increasingly harsh rhetoric directed at Muslims:

His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.

Obama won’t have a chance to feature Francis in a third SOTU address in a row. Based on past performance, the candidate most likely to quote the pope in 2017 would be the Francis-happy Democrat Bernie Sanders, who apparently hasn’t seen a Pope Francis meme that he hasn’t liked, retweeted or created himself.

Kevin Clarke
Senior Editor/Chief Correspondent

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Thomas Farrelly
3 years ago
I appreciate Ashley McKinless' thoughts. Some of the others sound like DNC press releases.
Vincent Gaglione
3 years ago
Speaker Ryan stated that the President's comments had degraded the Presidency. Did he listen to the same speech that I did? The themes the President enumerated were one man's prescriptions for the future of the nation. A harsh characterization by the Speaker served only to underscore the very polarity that the President regretted. So, who indeed is degrading what?
J Cosgrove
3 years ago
For those who want to read or hear what Paul Ryan said, a transcript and video is here www.usat.ly/1ZyAfYZ Paul Ryan is a class act as opposed to Obama's rhetoric which is full of disdain and snark.
Gabriel Marcella
3 years ago
The SOTUS has become part of the permanent campaign of modern presidents. It no longer is about the state of the union as, required by the Constitution: the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” (Article II, Section 3, Clause 1). The choreography of entry by POTUS, the black robed Supremes sitting in stone silence and never rising, the Joint Chiefs of Staff similarly, the two parties sitting apart, the Vice President and Speaker of the House sitting as potential successors to POTUS, the special guests, the diplomatic corps, etc., is compelling for our democracy. However, the speech needs to return to its constitutional intent.


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