It was supposed to be a bit different, about the future not the past. His final State of the Union address was going to look forward, give Americans confidence in their own strengths to face the challenges of domestic and global change.But it did not sound too different from so many speeches he has delivered over the past several years.
Obama did mention the past - mainly his own successes – saving financial capitalism, creating 900,000 manufacturing jobs, making GM profitable again, healthcare reform, etc… He bemoaned political polarisation and partisanship – indirectly attacking Republicans who deny climate change, the Trump’s shrill intolerance and bigotry.
But the main point is that though he invoked the name of Martin Luther King, jr., he failed to do very much to uplift African-Americans’ lives, improve living standards across the middle class, or stop the triumph of Wall Street interests over "Main Street".
He bemoaned the greater concentration of income and wealth at the top of the US social system but failed to mention that it increased during his tenure and under his leadership. In 2008 and 2012, he raised millions from Wall St banks for his election campaigns, and appointed several such corporates to the Treasury to oversee the bailout of the banks after the Great Crash – men such as Timothy Geithner who had been head of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York – overseeing Wall St banks etc… as they built up steam and collapsed in 2007-8. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote that as he spent more and more time with corporate donors during 2007-8, he began to see the world through their eyes and not through those of ordinary people. And that “class” – Obama used that term in relation to corporate executives etc – do not see anything wrong in amassing as much income and wealth for themselves as possible and at the expense of US society. Cutting big government and taxes on the highest income groups, for that "class", is the principal purpose of government. Alongside bailing out banks that bring the financial system to its knees to the tune of trillions of dollars.
The complaints Obama makes, all reasonable, are ones about which he did little or actually helped make worse – especially income and wealth inequality. And that has had significant knock on effects on election financing – with just 158 wealthy families contributing 50% of all election funding in the primaries up to this point. The wealthy hold on political power – especially among Republicans, but also over the Clinton campaign – leads directly to the selection of the most conservative candidates who support tax cuts for the rich, cuts in welfare and benefits for the elderly, and oppose gun control.
Obama's address was a pretty shameless example of 'newspeak' - Orwell would have been proud.