President Obama’s Final State of the Union Address

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.

9:10 P.M. EST
January 12, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union. And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter. (Applause.) I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa. (Laughter.) I’ve been there. I’ll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips. (Laughter.)

And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low. But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families. So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform — (applause) — and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse. (Applause.) So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again.

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients. And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done. Fixing a broken immigration system. (Applause.) Protecting our kids from gun violence. (Applause.) Equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) Paid leave. (Applause.) Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.) All these things still matter to hardworking families. They’re still the right thing to do. And I won’t let up until they get done.

But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year. I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond. I want to focus on our future.

We live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people. And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.

What was true then can be true now. Our unique strengths as a nation — our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law — these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come.

In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years. That’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations. (Applause.) That’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector. (Applause.) That’s how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans. (Applause.) That’s how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love. (Applause.)

But such progress is not inevitable. It’s the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy? (Applause.)

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change? (Applause.)

Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman? (Applause.)

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. (Applause.) We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history. (Applause.) More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. (Applause.) That’s just part of a manufacturing surge that’s created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters. (Applause.)

Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction. (Applause.) Now, what is true — and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious — is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up.

Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated. Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing. It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to. And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody. We’ve made progress. But we need to make more. And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering. In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and — (applause) — offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one. We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids. (Applause.)

And we have to make college affordable for every American. (Applause.) No hardworking student should be stuck in the red. We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income. And that’s good. But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college. (Applause.) Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year. (Applause.) It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber. (Laughter.) For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher. Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process.

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever. We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.) And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today. That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about. It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage. Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far. (Applause.) And in the process, health care inflation has slowed. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon. (Applause.) A little applause right there. Laughter.) Just a guess. But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security. Say a hardworking American loses his job — we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him. If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills. And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him. That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty. America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up. And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don’t have children. (Applause.)

But there are some areas where we just have to be honest — it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years. And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations. (Applause.) And it’s an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy. I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed. There is red tape that needs to be cut. (Applause.) There you go! Yes! (Applause But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense. (Applause.) Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered. Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. (Applause.) Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts. (Applause.)

The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less. The rules should work for them. (Applause.) And I’m not alone in this. This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders. (Applause.) And I want to spread those best practices across America. That’s part of a brighter future. (Applause.)

In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative. And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer: How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. (Laughter.) We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight. And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon. (Applause.)

Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA. America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world. (Applause.) That’s who we are.

And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit. We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online. (Applause.) We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day. But we can do so much more.

Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer. Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.) So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. (Applause.) For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all. (Applause.)

Medical research is critical. We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources. (Applause.) Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it. (Applause.)

But even if — even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record — until 2015 turned out to be even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.)

Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history. Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average. We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support. And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth. (Applause.) Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either. (Applause.)

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. We do them no favor when we don’t show them where the trends are going. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system. (Applause.)

Now, none of this is going to happen overnight. And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve — that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve. And it’s within our grasp.

Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world. And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. Let me tell you something. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. (Applause.) Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. (Applause.) It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. (Applause.) No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us. (Applause.)

I mean, it’s useful to level the set here, because when we don’t, we don’t make good decisions.

Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength. In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.

The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia. Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition. Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria — client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit. And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system. And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. (Applause.) Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country. Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies. We have to take them out.

But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. (Applause.) That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions. (Applause.) We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. (Applause.)

And that’s exactly what we’re doing. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons. We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.

If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote. (Applause.) Take a vote. But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell. When you come after Americans, we go after you. (Applause.) And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits. (Applause.)

Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks. Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees. The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it’s done with the best of intentions. (Applause.) That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it’s the lesson of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now. (Applause.)

Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power. It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.

That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war. (Applause.)

That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa. (Applause.) Our military, our doctors, our development workers — they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia. It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America. With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do. You want to show our strength in this new century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it. It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

Let me give you another example. Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America. That’s why we restored diplomatic relations — (applause) — opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over — lift the embargo. (Applause.)

The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists — or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling. Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right. It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity.

When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids. When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick — (applause) — it’s the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores. Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS. That’s within our grasp. (Applause.) And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year. (Applause.)

That’s American strength. That’s American leadership. And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example. That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo. (Applause.) It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies. (Applause.) There’s a better way. (Applause.)

And that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion. (Applause.) Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith.

His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I’m standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. (Applause.) It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country. (Applause.)

“We the People.” Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that’s how we might perfect our Union. And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

The future we want — all of us want — opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country — different regions, different attitudes, different interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task — or any President’s — alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know; you’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor.

But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves. I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. (Applause.) Let a bipartisan group do it. (Applause.)

We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections. (Applause.) And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution — because it’s a problem. And most of you don’t like raising money. I know; I’ve done it. (Applause.) We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder. (Applause.) We need to modernize it for the way we live now. (Applause.) This is America: We want to make it easier for people to participate. And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

But I can’t do these things on my own. (Applause.) Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.

What I’m suggesting is hard. It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure. And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective 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.

We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want. It will not produce the security we want. But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it — our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.) We need every American to stay active in our public life — and not just during election time — so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day.

It is not easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

And they’re out there, those voices. They don’t get a lot of attention; they don’t seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing. I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours. I see you, the American people. And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off.

I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over — and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters — and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe. (Applause.)

I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught. (Applause.)

I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count — because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.
That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Undaunted by challenge. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. (Applause.) That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future. I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people. The

And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong. (Applause.)

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END 10:11 P.M. EST

News Taco: Who’s Latino?

Is Jorge Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis, Latino? Does it matter? Why did Bruno Mars drop his Puerto Rican father’s surname? And who is the new Obama staffer Miguel Rodriguez? Latino USA guest host Felix Contreras gets the answers in conversation with Victor Landa, editor of the site News Taco.

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Click here to download this week’s show. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Victor-150x150Victor Landa is the founder and editor of NewsTaco, a website that provides news, analysis and critique from a Latino perspective. He worked as a writer and editor for 30 years, mostly with Telemundo and Univisión. Landa also contributed to the San Antonio Express-News, and he is an adviser on media strategy, message crafting, storytelling and public speaking.

IMMIGRATION TUMBLEWEEDS

Congress is headed for Easter recess. How close are we to seeing immigration reform legislation, and how are national and grassroots immigrant advocacy groups mobilizing to shape new policy? María Hinojosa speaks to Pilar Marrero, senior political writer at La Opinion, for an update.

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Click here to download this week’s show.  Image courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons)

PilarMarrero1Pilar Marrero is a journalist who for 25 years has extensively covered the areas of city government, immigration and state and national politics. She works for La Opinión as a senior reporter and it’s a regular commentator for radio and television in both spanish and english media. She´s the author of “El Despertar del Sueño Americano” published by Penguing Books and now on sale. The english version of the book, Killing the American Dream, comes out October 2 published by Pallgrave McMillan. Marrero lives in Los Angeles.

IMMIGRATION REFORM, SERVED TWO WAYS

Two proposals for comprehensive immigration reform were released this week, from a bipartisan Senate committee and from President Obama. As we launch into political negotiations for more detailed plans, we ask: is this a breakthrough, or are we headed to another impasse as in previous years? We speak to New York Times reporter Julia Preston about the developing plans.

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Click here to download this week’s show. [Image courtesy of Fox News.]

Julia Preston was a member of The New York Times staff that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on international affairs for its series that profiled the corrosive effects of drug corruption in Mexico. Ms. Preston came to The Times in July 1995 after working at the Washington Post for nine years as a foreign correspondent. She is a 1997 recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for distinguished coverage of Latin America and a 1994 winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Humanitarian Journalism.

Born in Lake Forest, Ill., on May 29, 1951, Ms. Preston received a B.A. degree in Latin American Studies from Yale University in 1976. She speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese. She has one daughter.

PRE-INAUGURATION CONVERSATION

President Barack Obama is about to begin his second term, and with the new administration comes a new cabinet and a new Congress. We speak about what Latino communities can expect in the new Obama term with Jordan Fabian, political editor for the English-language website for Univision News.

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Click here to download this week’s show.

Jordan Fabian is the political editor for Univision News’s English-language portal. Prior to joining Univision in 2011, he worked as a staff writer at The Hill newspaper in Washington, DC where he covered Congress and the 2012 presidential campaign. Jordan has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News and C-SPAN, and has contributed to a number of nationally-syndicated radio programs. He also freelanced for Hispanic Business magazine. Jordan hails from Olney, MD and is a lifelong resident of the Washington area. He graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor of arts in history.

NOTICIANDO: LATINO DECISIONS

If results from the presidential election are true, Latino voters were key in tipping the balance that gave Obama four more years to usher in all the change he promised. For more in depth results on how the Latino vote influenced this past election, we speak to Matt Barretto, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and co-founder of political research firm Latino Decisions.

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Click here to download this week’s show.

Matt A. Barreto is an Associate Professor in political science at the University of Washington, Seattle and the director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (WISER). He is also the director of the annual Washington Poll. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Irvine in 2005. His research examines the political participation of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States and his work has been published in the American Political Science Review, Political Research Quarterly, Social Science Quarterly, Public Opinion Quarterly, and other peer reviewed journals.

Who wins in November? Romney, Obama or Latinos? Find out Oct. 18

 

Thursday, October 18th
6-8pm | The New School
55 W. 13TH ST. | THERESA LANG CENTER

Latino voters are expected to play a pivotal role in the presidential election, just as they did in 2008. This town hall event will explore the tensions in the complex relationship that has evolved between the Latino electorate and the presidential candidates. Will economic concerns such as unemployment and housing foreclosures guide at the voting booth? Will the candidates’ immigration policies dominate? Or will large numbers of Latinos simply sit out this election? Understanding the political cross-currents buffeting Latinos today will provide valuable insight on the probable outcome of the election, as well as political and policy implications for the nation over the next four years.

A CONVERSATION WITH:
Maria Hinojosa
 President, The Futuro Media Group
Jordan Fabian Political Editor, Univision News
Chung-Wha Hong Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition
Mark Hugo Lopez Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center
Fernand Amandi Partner, Bendixen and Amandi Intl.

In partnership with

 

Fi2W Commentary: Campaigns Blitz Latino Voters with Ads, But Will it Change the Race?

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are stepping up efforts to reach Latino voters ahead of the November 6th election. Last week Obama and a strangely tanned Governor Romney appeared on Univision to answer questions in a town hall-type forum. Their campaigns are also churning out ads directed at Latinos.

In this post I’ll explore what’s different about these ads and whether they can make a difference in the race.

Romney is concentrating on key battleground states like Florida and Nevada where the Latino vote could swing the election. In a recent Florida ad, produced in both Spanish and English, Romney’s favorite Latino poster-boy Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) talks about how Romney has promised to save Medicare. This is a tactical change for a campaign that until now has mainly talked to Latinos abut the economy, the issue that regularly tops polls of Latino concerns.

Romney has largely stayed away from the immigration question when speaking to Latinos, since his anti-immigration rhetoric during the primaries turned off many Latino voters. During the Univision town hall, moderator Jorge Ramos repeatedly pressed Romney on immigration, but Romney remained vague about what he would actually do as president regarding unauthorized immigration.

Another theme that Romney is using to woo Latino voters is disillusionment. The Romney camp knows that about 70 percent of Latinos currently support the president. However, many Latinos feel let down by Obama because he didn’t keep his 2008 promises to create an easier path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants through comprehensive immigration reform.  In a Romney ad airing in Colorado and Nevada called “Ya No Mas” sad-faced Latinos talk about how Obama makes a lot of promises with his pretty words, but doesn’t follow through with results. Their disillusionment is why they are going to vote for Mitt Romney.

Why the change in focus? It could be because Romney’s support among Latino voters is actually shrinking. Only 24 percent of Latinos say they will definitely vote for the GOP candidate, down from 30 percent a few weeks ago. One of the reasons for this decline may be Romney’s now famous “47 percent “ talk in which he said that 47 percent of Americans are freeloaders that live off government. The Obama camp has seized on this in their new campaign ads.

In an ad from the SEIU/Cope Super-PAC, Romney is shown during the GOP primaries saying that most Latino immigrants just want to sneak across the border and get a free government handout,  a comment that is reminiscent of his “47 percent” remark. The ad is airing in states throughout the West that have large Latino populations like Nevada and Colorado. Obama’s supporters want to underscore the problem Romney has with Latinos, that they don’t believe he represents their values and interests. Democrats also want to remind Latinos about some of the anti-immigration statements Romney made during the primaries.

The Obama camp is also attempting to shore up their support among Latina women. In an ad produced by the campaign, Mexican-American actress Eva Longoria urges women to get active in the campaign because, she says, women stand to lose many of their reproductive rights if Romney is elected. In the spot, Longoria also mentions that Obama appointed two women to the U.S. Supreme Court. In another ad, also produced by the campaign, a Latina lawyer named Nydia Mendez talks about how Romney opposed Sonya Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination. Another Democratic ad features popular Spanish-language talk show host Cristina Saralegui saying that Romney only wants to continue Bush’s failed policies.

In addition to the issues, both campaigns are subtly attempting to appeal to Latino voters on racial and socio-economic grounds. Watch Romney’s “Ya No Mas” ad above. Notice anything? The Latinos in the ad are almost all of European origin. The Romney camp probably believes that the segment of the Latino population that is more likely to vote for him, besides the disillusioned, are those that are better off financially.

One legacy of Spanish colonial rule is that the upper classes in Latin America are overwhelmingly white. Take for example the Cuban exiles that came over in the ’60s. Though Cuba’s population is roughly half European and half Afro-Cuban, the first few waves of Cuban exiles were almost entirely white because they were largely from the upper classes. You see this in many other Latin American societies as well. Look at the telenovelas on Univision or Telemundo. The majority of the main characters, usually rich, are light skinned and light eyed while the servants are darker skinned.

By comparison, the Obama ads feature many darker skinned Mexican-Americans. These ads are running in the West where the majority of Latinos are Mexicans who, the assumption goes, are from the working class and middle class.

Will these tactics and changes in strategy work? Are Romney’s attempts to reach out to Latinos going to increase his popularity among this key group of voters? It’s possible, but unlikely. Obama’s massive lead will be hard to overcome. Even though the Romney campaign has spent more money on their Latino outreach than any other Republican candidate in history, it hasn’t done him much good. Though they spent less money on outreach, George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, and in 2008 John McCain won the votes of 31 percent of Latinos. It just goes to show that in the end it comes down to the candidate. And in the case of Mitt Romney, many Latinos just don’t like him.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for Guanabee.com, Tuvez.com, Egotastic.com, and Directorslive.com. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.

Undocumented Immigrants Plan Protests at the Democratic National Convention

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Maricruz Ramirez never thought she would cross the country telling the world that she is undocumented, but when she was invited to join the UndocuBus with 30 others, she didn’t blink.

“I wanted to do this for my children,” she said. “I want a better future for them”.

Ramirez arrived in Charlotte a few days before the National Democratic Convention (DNC) where her group, the self-identified “undocumented delegation,” will engage in protests calling for immigration reform.

Their journey was intended to highlight the situation faced by undocumented immigrants across the country as they get behind the wheel to drive and risk being pulled over by the police, asked for documents and turned over to U.S. immigration agents.

The group has denounced the Obama administration for the record number of deportations in recent years, often targeting undocumented workers without criminal records.

They are especially critical of the administration’s push for agreements known as 287(g), used to deputize local police to perform the duties of immigration agents during patrols, and of Secure Communities, a related program that allows local police to check a person’s immigration status on a federal database.

“We want these programs to stop,” said Miguel Guerra, another one of the riders who began the trip in Phoenix, Arizona. Guerra, the father of three children was arrested in an act of civil disobedience in Phoenix before the journey began, but was later released.

The UndocuBus left Arizona on July 29th to mark the 2-year-anniversary of the state’s SB 1070. In it’s June 25th ruling the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of SB 1070, allowing one portion to stand.  That section makes it mandatory for police in Arizona to inquire about a person’s immigration status when the police have reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. SB 1070 has inspired similar laws in other states including Georgia and Alabama, where the bus made stops en route to Charlotte.

It’s been a “liberating” experience for Ramirez, after a journey that took her through 10 different states and 16 cities where she heard stories and saw the tears of other women enduring her same struggle.

“We’ve helped many others to stand up and not be afraid,” said Ramirez.

She believes the first step to bringing about change for undocumented immigrants is for immigrants to step out of the shadows and tell their stories.

“We don’t come here to live for free. We contribute. We pay taxes,” she said.

Upon arriving in Charlotte on Saturday the UndocuBus delegation went to Central Siloe Church where they heard the story of Isaide Serrano. The young mother awaits an immigration judge’s decision on whether she’ll be allowed to stay in the country.

Serrano is now seven months pregnant and has five other children who were born in the U.S. She was pulled over by a police officer while driving back from the grocery store two years ago, for having her high beams on. When the officer realized that she didn’t have a valid driver’s license he took her into custody.

That encounter led her to a county jail that had a 287(g) program in place where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put a hold on her and began deportation proceedings.

“I’m pleading not to be separated from my children,” said Serrano. “They have all their lives here”.

José Malgandi, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador also rode in the bus. He doesn’t trust what Republicans or Democrats would do to address the issue of immigration.

At Republican National Convention the party released its platform that calls for the creation of,  ”humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas.”  The GOP platform also expresses support for states that pass their own immigration laws like Arizona.

Malgandi said Republicans have used undocumented immigrants as a scapegoat, while the Obama administration hasn’t kept the promise of approving some form of immigration reform, focusing instead on deportations.

“We are going to demand to him (Obama) to not put immigration in an irrelevant place on the agenda,” he said.

For immigrants like Ramirez, the administration’s recent deferred action policy that would benefit children like hers who were brought into the country illegally, is not enough.

“What Obama offered is not a solution,” she said.  She added she hopes that if re-elected, the president will support legislation like the DREAM Act, that would allow undocumented children that were raised in the United States to legalize their status.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist in Phoenix, Arizona. She worked for La Voz newspaper for the last six years covering the immigration beat and she is a guest contributor on Race Wire. Valeria was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, and moved to the United States in 1999.

Will Latinos Play A Key Role in the 2012 Presidential Election?

Will the economy or immigration drive Latino votes? Is Ted Cruz the new face of American politics? In this podcast episode, Fi2W executive producer John Rudolph interviews senior analyst Sylvia Manzano from the polling firm Latino Decisions for a midsummer snapshot of Hispanic voters.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean

In 2008 Latino voters played a pivotal role in sending Barack Obama to the White House. But this year things could be different; the economy is still in recovery and the president has not kept his pledge to bring about significant immigration reform.

Pollster Sylvia Manzano says the margin of support for Obama will be similar to 2008: 70-72 percent of Latinos say they would vote for Obama versus 20-22 percent for Mitt Romney. The big difference will be turnout. The lack of immigration reform and record numbers of deportations of undocumented immigrants under President Obama has meant Latinos are less enthusiastic about his candidacy than they were four years ago. However, enthusiasm has increased this summer since the announcement of the deferred action program and the Supreme Court’s decision striking down major portions of Arizona’s immigration law known as SB 1070.

The number one issue for Latinos is the economy says Manzano, which sounds good for Romney, except she points out that Latinos are much more likely to support Democratic strategies, like raising taxes on the wealthy, government investment and increased spending. There’s not much support among Latinos for Republican prescriptions including tax cuts and cuts in social services.

Latino Decisions has identified five states where Latino voters could be the deciding factor in the presidential contest.  They are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.

According to Manzano, Texas, a state not on the list, represents the future of American politics. She focuses on two rising stars – Republican Ted Cruz who is running for the U.S. Senate in Texas and Julian Castro the young mayor of San Antonio who will give the keynote address at this year’s Democratic convention. This is about national demography says Manzano: more Latinos means more Latinos in both parties.

Manzano argues that the growing Latino electorate in Texas means we’re likely to see the emergence of a more moderate Republican party rather than a quick shift to electing Democrats. She says this is like New Mexico where Latinos tend to vote for moderate Democrats or liberal Republicans. She says Arizona, another state with a growing number of Hispanic voters, is more likely to follow California and turn blue over time.

For more analysis from Sylvia Manzano, make sure to check out the Latino Decisions Blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of Flickr