WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union address came seconds shy of being his shortest, despite clocking in at 59 minutes, 6 seconds — all 6,492 words of it.
Still, as is typical of these occasions, the speech read like a lengthy laundry list of accomplishments and upcoming priorities.
But amid all that was mentioned in this year’s State of the Union speech, what was also notable were the topics skirted around, merely alluded to or altogether neglected. Here are some of the topics that the president appeared reticent to talk about:
The president spent a large chunk of his speech speaking of ways to provide relief and richer opportunities for middle-class families still recovering from the recession — proposing free community college for all Americans, an expanded tax credit to pay for child care, a bill that would allow workers to earn paid sick leave, as well as tax cuts that would benefit middle income-earners by closing loopholes for the wealthy. However, Obama, in focusing almost exclusively on positive economic news, made no mention of the 45 million Americans languishing below the poverty line — a marked departure from last year, when he made Promise Zones, an anti-poverty initiative, one of the centerpieces of his address.
In a sign that perhaps he does not want to relitigate bruising political battles, Obama bypassed some of the marquee issues he formerly championed but failed to gain traction on. Gun control, which was a top agenda item after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013, was totally absent from the address.
The president mentioned how he “mourned with grieving families in Tucson and Newtown, in Boston, West Texas and West Virginia,” lumping together mass shootings that left Rep. Gabby Giffords critically injured and, separately, 23 schoolchildren dead with the Boston Marathon bomb plot, a chemical plant explosion and a mining disaster.
The Keystone XL pipeline is set for a Washington showdown. Republicans in the House have voted to fast-track the project, and the Senate GOP majority has vowed to follow suit. But Obama chose not to dwell on the issue. While the White House has clearly stated that he would veto any such bill, he opted to focus his remarks on calling for a renewed push for infrastructure and only obliquely referred to the pipeline. The project has galvanized environmental activists against it, but many see that stance as a vote loser in Washington.
Obama said that “21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year and make this country stronger for decades to come.”
Even after police killings of unarmed black American men dominated the headlines throughout the fall and winter and prompted nationwide protests over issues of race, policing and the justice system, Obama did not substantially address the subject or the outrage many felt. Rather, he struck a conciliatory note, calling for empathy from both sides.
“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed,” he said. “Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”
The president called on Congress to pass a new resolution to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, reaffirming his commitment to battling the extremist group while vowing not to get ensnared in another costly and lengthy war. However, Boko Haram, the armed group that gained worldwide infamy last year after abducting 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, did not garner a reference, even as the group escalates its attacks and stands accused of slaughtering as many as 2,000 people in a series of raids.
The speechwriters decided to give the American public a break from traditionally groan-worthy presidential jabs at humor, although Obama did manage to throw in a minor, unscripted brag.
“I have no more campaigns to run,” Obama said, prompting the inevitable mild applause from a small section of seated Republicans. “I know, ’cause I won both of them,” the president shot back.