US President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared that the US has turned the page on years of war and economic hardship, in a populist-tinged State of the Union address that set up the battle to succeed him, but Republicans quickly said the speech was more about politics than leadership.
Emboldened by a stronger economy and better approval ratings, Obama called for a new chapter in US history that ushers in a fairer economy with a better shake for the middle class.
“We are 15 years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world,” Obama said. “It has been, and still is, a hard time for many, but tonight we turn the page.”
He heralded the “growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry and booming energy production” that have also helped revive his political fortunes as his time in the White House nears its end.
For six years Obama’s presidency was often subsumed by an economic crisis that stymied efforts to narrow inequality and put other liberal policy priorities on the back burner.
Appealing to Democrats determined to retain the White House next year, Obama on Tuesday called for an increase in the minimum wage, equal pay for women and tax breaks for the middle class.
Drawing a stark contrast with tax-averse Republicans, he dared his foes to oppose proposed tax increases for the rich that would pay for middle class breaks.
“We have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years and for decades to come,” he said. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
Obama’s Republican opponents have branded such talk as little more than class warfare and will use their majority in both houses of US Congress to make sure the plans never become law.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who was tasked with rebutting Obama’s speech, said Americans are still suffering from “stagnant wages and lost jobs.”
She also decried Obama’s “failed policies” and a “stale mindset” that led to “political talking points, not serious solutions.”
Mitt Romney, a past and potential future Republican presidential candidate, said: “True to form, the president in his State of the Union speech is more interested in politics than in leadership.”
Obama also used the speech to call on the US Congress to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance,” he said. “This effort will take time. It will require focus, but we will succeed.”
Just days after attacks in Paris killed 17, Obama said “deplorable anti-Semitism ... has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”
“We stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists — from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris,” he said.
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