One year later, Barack Obama's 2015 State of the Union address stands up surprisingly well. I know, because I accidentally watched almost all of it on Tuesday night thinking it was the 2016 State of the Union.
The 2015 SOTU starts out with a semi-suggestive "This is the 2015 SOTU" moment. "We are 15 years into this new century," Obama said, clearly pleading with me to realize that I had clicked on the wrong YouTube link.
"Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores," Obama added once again, while I half-listened, ordered GrubHub and decided to forego the Twitter vortex for the duration of the speech.
Over the next one hour and eight minutes, Obama would say a lot of things, some of them head-scratchers, like the Cuba stuff, or when he re-announced his plan to make community college free, or when he said that gay marriage is now "legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home."
"Maybe he meant states where people overwhelmingly support it?" my friend suggested, as we discussed how it could be that gay marriage was not yet legal in all states considering the Supreme Court ruling in June.
But for the most part, the speech made sense, even if it did feel a little bit stale. At one point, I said that I felt ready for a new president, if only because it felt like Obama was going through the motions at this point.
"I just feel like I’ve heard this all before, you know?"
One of my friends complained about the president's unwillingness to discuss the "real issues." "Is he even going to mention San Bernardino?" he asked. Then again, this friend is always complaining about Obama. Par for the course there.
Now, I know what you're thinking: What fucking idiots. But listen, have you ever considered how much of these speeches sound the same every year?
Let's take Guantanamo Bay. Here he was in 2015:
Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of Gitmo in half. Now it is time to finish the job, and I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are. It’s time to close Gitmo.
And here he was Tuesday night:
That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo. It’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies. There’s a better way.
What about the talk of creating a "better politics"? Here's 2015:
A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.
And now, 2016:
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 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.
Manufacturing in 2015:
Our manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs. Some of our bedrock sectors, like our auto industry, are booming.
Manufacturing in 2016:
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.
But you know, things like childcare and sick leave and equal pay, things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage -- these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families. That’s a fact.
And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done: fixing a broken immigration system ... protecting our kids from gun violence, equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage.
Not laughing so hard now, are you, motherfuckers? And let's take a moment to remember how this whole SOTU thing actually goes with friends: About a third of your time is occupied by finding stuff to laugh about, a third by wondering when your GrubHub order is going to arrive and a third by Obama saying the same things he's said for years. Add it all up, and suddenly there is very little time for questions like, "Why is John Boehner sitting in Paul Ryan's seat?" or "Are we watching the 2015 SOTU by accident?"
If anything, watching the 2015 SOTU when you think you are watching the 2016 SOTU makes you realize what sticks in life, and what sticks are jokes. At around 68 minutes in, Obama made one:
I have no more campaigns to run. (Applause.) My only agenda -- (laughter) -- I know, because I won both of them.
My friends and I did a double-take.
"Did Barack Obama just recycle an old joke from last year's State of the Union?"
"Yeah, that's a little lame of him, right? Like, think of a new joke."
"Wait a second ... what are we watching!?"
"ARE WE WATCHING THE WRONG STATE OF THE UNION?"
After a brief moment of self-disgust, we proceeded to watch the 2016 State of the Union. It was basically the same.
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