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7 Best State of the Union Moments

The president offered real talk on climate change and more in his fourth State of the Union address.

Pool photo by Charles Dharapak

Time for Reform

After a seemingly endless round of standing ovations, President Obama began his State of the Union address on a positive note. “After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs,” he announced, applauding the housing, stock, and home markets for rebounding during tough economic times. He stressed passing a bipartisan tax and entitlement reform that keeps things moving upward. “Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” he declared. “The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.”

Real Talk on Climate Change

On climate change, Obama wasn’t entertaining any theories other than the scientific ones. The record-breaking heat, crippling worldwide droughts, and devastating fires of 2012 and floods were no coincidence, he said. Obama encouraged Congress to act to protect the Earth, bluntly saying that if it didn’t, he would with an executive action. “We can choose to believe that superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it’s too late,” he said.

Romney Agrees: Raise the Minimum Wage!

Obama wasn’t shy in dropping former presidential contender Mitt Romney’s name twice during his speech. The idea of raising the minimum wage to a livable number, he said, was one shared by the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. “Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” Obama announced. A full-time American worker makes $14,500 a year, a paltry amount that leaves many Americans struggling to get by, he said: “This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead.”

Servicemen and Women, Gay and Straight

Touching a nerve in an audience dotted with military veterans, Obama made a solid pledge to end the drawn-out war in Afghanistan by matching the number of security forces that have already been removed from the country over the next year. “I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan,” he said. “This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.” Obama lauded the recent decision to allow women into combat. “We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families—gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.”

Gun Victims Deserve a Vote

The most rousing moment in Obama’s speech came when he transitioned into the gun violence wracking the United States. He lamented that “more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun” in just two months since the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a moment he called the worst in his presidency. A case especially near to his heart was the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed in Chicago just weeks after performing at his inauguration and just blocks from the Obamas’ home. In the audience, her parents stoically watched as the president eulogized their daughter and spoke of the urgent gun reforms our country needs. “Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote,” he said. “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence—they deserve a simple vote.”

Three American Heroes

Obama spoke about three unheralded citizens whose examples, he said, should be followed by every American seeking to make the U.S. a better country. One, a New York city nurse named Menchu Sanchez, worked tirelessly through Hurricane Sandy to care for 20 newborns. Another, police officer Brian Murphy, rushed to the scene of Wisconsin’s tragic Sikh temple shooting and was shot 12 times. Obama spoke especially passionately about Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old woman in the audience who waited six hours in line to vote on Election Day in Miami. She beamed at the standing ovation that ensued.

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We Are Citizens

If the first two thirds of Obama’s speech was on the wonky side, the last showcased the type of purely inspirational oration the president does so well. “We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title: we are citizens,” Obama said, stressing that as citizens we are all responsible not just for each other but also for the next generations of American citizens. “It remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.” Let’s see how these next four years shape it.