obama hillary
Obama is expected to set the stage for is successor in tonight’s State of the Union address. Though he hasn’t endorsed a Democratic candidate, reports indicate the speech will favor Hillary Clinton. Above: then-Senator Obama (D-IL) (R) stands in front of then-Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as they arrive for U.S. President George W. Bush's final State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 23, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Barack Obama delivers his last State of the Union address tonight, the first of a series in farewell speeches on the eve of his second term. Normally the annual speech is an expression of legislative priorities from the White House, but no one expects congress to pass anything that Obama asks for tonight, with Republicans controlling the Hill in his Lame-Duck term. Instead, Obama’s speech is likely to seek to cement the leader’s legacy. But it won’t all be legacy: despite saying he’s not going to endorse a Democratic candidate before the conclusion of the primaries, it’s been widely reported that Obama’s staff are setting the table for 2016 with Hillary Clinton in mind. Here are 5 novel things to look for in tonight’s speech.

Paul Ryan

Looking back at Obama’s past State of the Union addresses, a few things will be different tonight. For one thing, there will be a new Speaker of the House sitting behind the president, sitting stage-right of Joe Biden. For years, that was John Boehner, whose micro expressions were overanalyzed. Tonight it will be Paul Ryan whose facial fluctuations will be put under the microscope as he patiently sits through the speech, expected to last just over an hour.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign will be the elephant, err, um, donkey in the room. Despite saying that he won’t pick a winner among the Democratic presidential candidates, multiple reports indicate that his staff are tailoring tonight's speech to her campaign, not that of Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley.

In the same vein, expect Obama to talk a lot about how good the economy is doing, how many jobs have been added, and how low unemployment is. While these stats don't make the history books, they’ll be key for voters deciding whom to vote for in November. Expect Obama to make the case that it is better off than it was 8 years ago.


Cicero was a famous Roman politician who, like Obama, did not come from a family of political elites. Instead, he grounded himself in the intellectual legacy of respect politicians from the past. In modern times, it’s called the “Washington outsider” strategy.

But Obama didn’t just borrow Cicero’s strategies, he used his rhetoric as well. There’s even a book called “ Obama: The American Cicero .” Sure, Obama speaks in English instead of Latin, but much of his pacing and use of sound echos the patterns of ancient orators. One classic example is the tricolon, the use of three concise (usually related) emphasis points.

Example: “I stand here today humbled by the task b efore us, grateful for the trust you have b estowed, mindful of the sacrifices b orne by our ancestors.”

Gun Control

Obama is likely to hit hard on gun control, in an effort to keep the issue in the public spotlight and in the 2016 campaign. Failure to pass gun control legislation is one of the major shortcomings in the president’s legacy, and he’s revisited the issue heavily in recent weeks.

“I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform,” he wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times last week.

Hillary Clinton seems to be seizing on the issue, as it is one of the areas where she is equally or more left-wing than Sanders. She attacked him on gun control early on Tuesday, mocking his pledge to stand up to special interest groups, a major focus on his campaign.

“If you’re going to go around saying you stand up to special interests then stand up to that most powerful special interest — stand up to the gun lobby,” Clinton said, in reference perhaps to Sander’s middle-of-the-road rhetoric on gun control, and support from the NRA in a 1990s congressional campaign.

Team Sanders seems to be turning to Vice President Joe Biden as a sort of counter-balance. Also hours before the State of the Union on Tuesday, the Sanders campaign blasted out a press release with quotes from Biden that spoke favorably of Sanders on gun control, among other issues.

"What Bernie Sanders has to do is say that the Second Amendment says -- which he has, of late -- the Second Amendment says you can limit who can own a gun, that people who are criminals shouldn't have guns," Biden said, according to the release. "People who are schizophrenic and have mental illnesses shouldn't own guns. And he has said that."


Another major blow to Obama’s legacy has been comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that he put on the back-burner during his first term and failed to pass in 2013, thanks in part to obstructionism in the Republican-controlled house.

In his final address, Obama is likely to defend his response the that gridlock: a series of executive actions announced in 2014 that created some of the outcomes proposed in the 2013 bill, including reductions in deportations and work permits for some of the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

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