President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address didn’t offer much in terms of policy initiatives — and it wasn’t expected to — but it was filled with moments attempting to ease public worry about the nation’s security and end the divisiveness of campaign rhetoric.
Sandy Sorensen, who directs the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., believes the president’s remarks were important to counter the anxiety that the American people might have that little can be accomplished in a presidential election year, as he highlighted some areas for bipartisan collaboration.
Obama's hour-long remarks on Tuesday, Jan. 12, were mostly upbeat, as he spoke about a strong future and ways to bridge the political divide.
"I think there are many people who share the view that very little could or will happen in this presidential election year, so I thought it was important for the president to lift up areas for bipartisan action," Sorensen said. "He mentioned issues important to our denomination such as immigration, gun violence, economic justice, global security and criminal justice reform."
Sorensen added that the public must “hold our members of Congress accountable, and ask them not to take a pass this year."
"Even more importantly, I think the president's address underscores a point of moral urgency, and that is whether we will choose fear or faith, or whether or not we will take up the call to citizenship and engage in democratic process despite challenges and disagreements," Sorensen said.
The president highlighted major victories, issues that the UCC has supported, such as marriage equality, strengthening health care, addressing the Ebola crisis, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the signing a nuclear pact with Iran. All of those are important successes, says the Rev. Mike Neuroth, international policy advocate. "I believe they will lead to a more just and peaceful world," he said. "His admonishment of Islamophobia was particularly welcomed, given the sharp increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric in society, and politics, over the past several months."
Still, Neuroth believes the president’s address left out polices that remain incomplete. "To say that our broken immigration system still 'needs doing' fails to acknowledge the depth of the fear, pain, and trauma currently being experienced by communities across the country at the hands of Department of Homeland Security raids," Neuroth said. “The president missed an opportunity in this speech to put forth a different vision for foreign policy at a time when his policies have come under so much scrutiny. Although he rightly acknowledges the fear and insecurity that many Americans feel in the face recent acts of terrorism, touting the world’s strongest military provides little assurance to those who do not see our bombing raids, drone usage, or disproportionately high Pentagon budget as the means through which a Just Peace in any conflict will be constructed. A different approach is needed."
Sorensen circled back to the notion that while there is significant agreement, sharp political rhetoric is hindering the public policy and the decision-making process. This election year presents the public with a chance to voice their approval or disapproval through local and national elections.
"As the president reminded us, the process is about 'We the people,' and we can’t surrender that process to partisanship, apathy, indifference or anger or fear," Sorensen said. "This is a time to take that process back, and only 'We the people' can truly do that."