What Obama Didn’t Talk About In His Final State Of the Union Address


President Obama spent much of his 2016 State of the Union addressing — in thinly veiled language — the Republican rhetoric in the race to replace him. But in doing so, he left out or glossed over some major Democratic policy positions, including policies that have been priority of his own administration.

Weeks after Obama signed executive orders refortifying gun laws, his biggest State of the Union statement on gun violence was visual: an empty seat in first lady Michelle Obama’s viewing box to represent victims. In the speech itself gun violence was mentioned only once, when Obama was making the point that the speech wouldn’t be a traditional State of the Union.

Criminal justice was also expected to play a major role, as it is one of the few issues that Congress could conceivably act on this year and has broad bipartisan support. It was mentioned only twice: first — briefly — as an issue Obama said he hoped to work with Congress with and again when Obama said he saw sees “the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over — and the business owner who gives him that second chance.”

When Obama brought up women’s issues, they were economic — like pay inequality and paid family leave, which both got brief mention. He did not, however, discuss or even name-check reproductive rights, be it abortion or contraceptive access — not to mention the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood.

Black Lives Matter and racial inequality continued to dominate headlines in the months leading up to Tuesday’s speech. Yet here too Obama did not have many words. He condoned making political targets out of people “because of race or religion” and only referenced the current debate over police brutality towards the end of his speech, when he mentioned, “The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”

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