President seeks unity on domestic and international issues as he faces Republican majorities.
In President Obama’s view, combating man-made climate change and providing childcare for working families are national security issues on a par with fighting a growing network of Islamist terrorists.
That’s the impression one might have from listening to Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address.
“No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” the president said before a joint session of Congress. “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record…. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”
While focusing much of his sixth State of the Union speech on the economy and ways to help the middle class, Obama also said he would ask Congress to pass legislation authorizing the use of force against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria; pledged a veto for any bill the now-Republican-controlled House and Senate send him that would undo the Affordable Care Act; renewed calls for immigration reform, and highlighted diplomatic moves his administration has made over the past year, including a new opening to Cuba.
In doing so, he quoted Pope Francis, who has said that diplomacy is the work of “small steps.”
The president also urged Americans to stay true to their “values.”
“There’s one last pillar to our leadership — and that’s the example of our values,” he said. “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims — the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.
Not all the values he championed are shared by all Americans, but he made it sound like they are.
“I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home.”
He has, of course, seen his own viewpoints on this issue “evolve” from the time he was a candidate and held fast against same-sex “marriage” to his support for the proposal today. This past week, when the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a case that might lead to legalized same-sex “marriage” in all 50 states, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration would urge the high court "to make marriage equality a reality for all Americans."
But the State of the Union address always falls in late January, around the time of the annual March for Life, and as hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers prepare to board buses to march past the hall where Obama spoke tonight, to the place where nine justices will hear the gay marriage case, many, perhaps, find hope in the president’s words that he may evolve even on the life issue.
“I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood,” Obama said as he wound down his remarks, “your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.”
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia's English edition.