Year after year, President Obama’s State of the Union addresses have offered certain consistencies: plenty of dad jokes, a declaration that “the state of the union is strong,” and a list of legislative proposals for the coming year—many of them involving defense and the economy.
Or at least such was the case until last night. In 2016, the state of the union was still “strong,” and the president still scored a handful of laughs. But Obama ditched his usual format of outlining specific measures that he hoped to see from Congress, and actions he planned to carry out himself, in favor of a broader and more-optimistic discussion of the nation’s role in the global landscape, and a call to reform the political system at home.
In Obama’s first seven* annual addresses, the economy was always a central talking point, sometimes accounting for as much as half of the speech. Defense and education typically followed, racking up six-to-eight minutes apiece. And then a handful of other subjects such as health, immigration, and infrastructure would clock in somewhere in the two- to four-minute range.
From time to time, Obama would address an issue that was outside the standard menu—for example, in 2013, the year after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, he dedicated five minutes to gun-law reform. In 2015, he spent more time than usual on civil-rights issues, including racial discrimination, the wage gap, and criminal-justice reform. But on the whole, his first seven speeches were cut from the same cloth.