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Politics & Law Series: Expert Comment

Obama's final State of the Union address

Professor Inderjeet Parmar gives his analysis of Obama's time in office

by City Press Office (General enquiries)

What will Obama try to achieve with his final State of the Union address?

“President Obama has promised that his final State of the Union address will be a ground-breaking declaration about how he sees the USA in 2016 and we expect a speech to match the soaring rhetoric of so many he has delivered before.

“He has said it will be focused on the big ideas about what America is, and what it could and should be. However, for some, the occasion will sum up the country’s failings – particularly the limits of presidential power that have been so visible under Obama, as well as the intensely partisan political system.

“Normally, presidents aim to show off their achievements and successes, the challenges ahead, as well as their upcoming legislative programme. In their final State of the Union address, they are normally attempting to avoid the label of a ‘lame duck’ president as there’s so little time to push through radical changes. Finally, the outgoing chief executive attempts to lay the groundwork – set the frames – of his legacy, his place in history.

“Obama has been very clear that he sees himself as a transformational. Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were the previous great presidents that he’s noted that he wants his name associated with. But will his record on healthcare reform, the nuclear agreement with Iran and rapprochement with Cuba do the trick? Or having saved capitalism in 2009 and 2010? In addition to his being the first African-American president, the latter might just be enough to make it a possibility."

Successes and failures of the Obama years

“Obama rightly has his critics, but he has made a difference – most notably on foreign policy, such as the negotiations with Cuba and Iran. And at home, he has had limited success with healthcare reform.

“Overall, though, numerous failings weigh heavily on the shoulders of President Obama. For example, he has not achieved the closure of Guantanamo Bay, intervention in Libya has contributed to huge regional instability and he has presided over a dramatic rise in drone warfare.

“Domestically, inequality and unequal treatment have continued to grow in the years since Obama was elected. Police violence, falling incomes, the rich-poor gap, black incarceration rates and Illiteracy levels are some of the most glaring examples.”

Professor Inderjeet Parmar is Head of the Department of International Politics at City University London. He was the Director of the Obama Research Network and has co-edited two books on Obama.
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