SOTU Retrospective


Tonight President Obama will give his final State of the Union speech. For some perspective on the last seven years, the UChicago Democrats Communications team presents this recap of Obama’s past addresses.

Be sure to check back here for our 2016 SOTU thoughts!

2010 State of the Union


Within the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression and on the heels of Barack Obama’s historic election, the 2010 State of the Union balanced the worries of a nation in crisis and hopes for a brighter future. Early in the speech, President Obama promised, “we will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States will emerge stronger than before.” Two such promises were Obama’s pledge to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term and to close Guantanamo Bay. Balancing an acknowledgement of the country’s weak economy and massive debt with a need to improve health care, education, and responses to global extremism, Obama met lofty goals with lofty rhetoric.

You can read President Obama’s full 2010 State of the Union remarks here. The Washington Post had a good scorecard, one year later in 2011, about the progress the President made on his 2010 SOTU proposals.


2011 State of the Union


The 2011 SOTU was a more somber, sobering occasion for the President and his party. Less than three weeks before, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and eighteen others were shot during a constituent meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Tucscon, Arizona. In a rare show of bipartisanship, members of Congress agreed to sit with members of the opposite party to show chamber solidarity. Legislators also wore black-and-white ribbons to honor the victims of gun shooting.

Politically, President Obama was only three months removed from a midterm ass-whooping, as a 76 house seat margin (255-179 Democratic Majority) and 58-42 Senate majority shifted to a narrower 53-47 Democratic majority and an astounding 242-193 Republican house majority to begin the 112th Congress (2011-2012). Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas were not in attendance after drawing Obama’s scorn in his 2010 address for the Citizens United decision.

In 2011, Obama made no mention of climate change in his national address, much to the chagrin of environmentalists and climate change believers. Obama did, however, pledge to end earmarked legislation, which he has in fact helped eliminate (technically) during his administration. Obama also eventually made good on his 2011 promise to vacate Iraq and drawdown troop deployment in Afghanistan. One also wonders if the President already knew about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden when he affirmed: “In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe havens are shrinking. And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.”

The 2011 GOP response was given by a young, upstart conservative stud from Wisconsin by the name of Paul Ryan. Furthermore, the ascension of the Tea Party pushed Rep. Michele Bachmann (remember when she ran for President?) to give their response. Only an omen in retrospect, but a damning sign of things to come for Democrats.

You can read President Obama’s full 2011 State of the Union remarks here. The Washington Post had a good scorecard, one year later in 2012, about the progress the President made on his 2011 SOTU proposals.


2012 State of the Union


With re-election looming only 10 months away, President Obama turned most of his attention towards income inequality and the economic plight of Americans following the “Great Recession” of 2007-2008. Obama advocated for action on student debt and college affordability, continuing the Bush tax cuts for families making $250,000 a year or less, and everyone’s favorite go-to “Buffet Rule” – a proposal to increase the minimum effective tax rate of people making more than $1 million year to a 30 percent minimum (Buffet’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, was in the guest box). In the end, one year later, Obama got a compromised win on the tax rates for the wealthy, emerging from the 2013 “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations with permanent Bush tax cuts for individuals earning less than $400,000 per year (couples $450,000) and raising rates on those who made more than the $400,000 threshold from 35% to 39.6%, matching the top tax bracket from the Clinton administration.

Obama also called for work on comprehensive immigration reform (in January 2012) and then the Gang of Eight happened and now Marco Rubio has amnesia. The Arab Spring of 2011 emerged several months before the 2012 address, which led to nationwide protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leading to a crackdown and ongoing civil war that remains today. Obama’s thoughts on the matter:“In Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied…. We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings — men and women; Christians, Muslims and Jews.” September 2012 would mark the year of the infamous “red line” comment. 4 million refugees, 7.5 million internally displaced, somewhere between 250,000-350,000 dead, and several documented uses of chemical weaponry later, the forces of change seem to be weaker than ever – unless you count ISIS.

You can read President Obama’s full 2012 State of the Union remarks here. The Washington Post had a good scorecard, one year later in 2013, about the progress the President made on his 2012 SOTU proposals.


2013 State of the Union


In 2013 Obama gave his first State of the Union after being reelected for four more years. Obama opened with a quote from John F. Kennedy that expressed his desire to bring the parties together to collaborate and cooperate in order to improve the state of the nation, “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.” Immediately, Obama jumped into a reminder that the United States was continuing to improve after the housing market recession, “we have cleared away the rubble of crisis.” Both a reason for applause and a subtle reminder that his work as President was making a difference. Starting with domestic issues Obama reminded the country of his healthcare reform and spent paragraphs in a discussion of the nation’s deficit. “Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America,” was the theme of this State of the Union which spent little time discussing Afghanistan or Iran while focusing mainly on infrastructure, the environment, and our education system.

You can read President Obama’s full 2013 State of the Union remarks here. The Washington Post had a good scorecard, one year later in 2014, about the progress the President made on his 2013 SOTU proposals.


2014 State of the Union

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address At U.S. Capitol

2014 was a interesting year for the President, both in terms of domestic policy and foreign policy. By 2014, an estimated 7 million people enrolled in the program, but the rollout was plagued by technical problems, and likely led to the resignation of HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. The VA scandal, the outrage over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, however, peppered with fears of Ebola spreading to major metropolitan areas in the US, suggest that aside from the expansion of the Affordable Care Act, 2014 proved to be a rough year for the President. Internationally, Ukraine and Russia drifted closer to war, and ISIS began to claim territory in Iraq and Syria. President Obama’s major policy successes appeared in thawing relations with two traditional adversaries, Iran and Cuba. Regarding Iran, Secretary of State Kerry helped orchestrate the interim deal which led to the formal Iran nuclear deal in 2015, while US-Cuba relations thawed, and trade restrictions were loosened.


Biggest Winner: The GOP, which picked up nine seats in Senate midterm elections.

Runner-Up: The European Space Agency, whose Philae lander successfully landed on a comet!

Biggest Loser: Civilians: see Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic, Mexico, South Sudan, etc.

Runner-Up: Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his seat to relatively unknown David Brat

You can read President Obama’s full 2014 State of the Union remarks here. The Washington Post had a good scorecard, six months later in 2015, about the progress the President made on his 2014 SOTU proposals.


2015 State of the Union


To sum up Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address: we’re out of Afghanistan, the economy ain’t so bad (indeed, growing at its “fastest pace since 1999”), we’ve gotten 10 million uninsured people on health care – things are looking good in America and it’s time to focus on issues that have been sidelined. Obama discussed what he calls “middle class economics:” increased access to college, sick leave, child care, equal pay, and other policies that strengthen the middle class; or, as Obama defines it, “helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.” Among other things, Obama called for seven days of paid sick leave, free community college, an infrastructure plan, and trade deals with Asia and Europe.

As for foreign policy, Obama called for authorization for the use of force against ISIL and celebrated the end of the Cuba embargo. And on climate change: “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does:  14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”

And a couple other memorable moments – Obama got a bit sassy, “I have no more campaigns to run…I know because I won both of them,” while RBG slept through the speech, “as I often do,” allegedly due to a little pre-SOTU wine.

You can read President Obama’s full 2015 State of the Union remarks here.


2016 State of the Union



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