It is customary for the president’s annual State of the Union speech to be followed by a rebuttal from the other party. But on Tuesday night, President Obama turned his final valedictory into a rebuttal of his own — a full-throated rejection of the most negative aspects of the Republican presidential campaign thus far.
“As frustration grows,” the president said, “there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.”
He didn’t have to be explicit about his target. The dominant voice on the GOP campaign trail, Donald Trump, has taken the spotlight by demonizing Muslims, making it a front-page issue across the country. While he has been notably condemned by Jeb Bush and other rivals and prominent voices in the party, Trump’s remarks have raised the level of anxiety in the country without in any way improving our security.
Mr. Obama took square aim at that dangerous trend in his speech. “We can’t afford to go down that path,” the president insisted. “It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.”
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Expanding on the theme, he rejected the inclination to “respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people,” insisting that America is strong enough to live up to what he described as the nation’s strengths, including “our diversity and commitment to the rule of law.”
His remarks about rejecting xenophobia and staying true to America’s best traditions represent a badly needed antidote to the general theme of pessimism and fear that has dominated the headlines about the campaign to succeed Mr. Obama in the White House. They also embodied the strongest part of the president’s remarks Tuesday night.
The president discarded the usual laundry list of presidential initiatives in favor of broader themes, a wise decision in view of his acknowledgment that Congress is unlikely to take any bold actions during this election year, especially on issues on which it disagrees with him — which covers a lot of ground.
Still, he held out the realistic hope that there is enough bipartisan support for criminal-justice reform and the Pacific trade agreement to bring those two initiatives to fruition this year. Both are important to Florida: Expanding trade would be a boon for Miami, and the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday striking down Florida’s death penalty suggests that criminal-justice reform should be a priority for the Sunshine State.
Mr. Obama also issued a challenge that Congress should take up right away. “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote.” Amen.
We cannot fail to note that the president also called on Congress to lift the trade embargo against Cuba. We agree with his reasons to move toward normalization, but until Cuba shows that it is invested in the process by easing its grip on the freedom of the Cuban people, no action should be taken on the embargo.
Insisting that America has not lost its mojo when it comes to improvement and innovation, he called for making a cure for cancer a “new moonshot” for America and tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead the effort. Now there’s a goal every American, regardless of party, should be able to agree on.