SOTU Addresses: Obama vs. Washington

America has obviously changed a lot since colonial times, and 224 years has made a lot of difference. But although so much time has passed, do we still struggle with the same pressing issues as we did in 1790?

One of the main points of President Obama’s address was the welfare of the economy. Corporate profits and stock prices are at an all time high, and the economy has been flourishing for four years. But some of the problems are that average wages haven’t improved, middle class jobs are scarce, and too many people are still unemployed. Another issue, one that is commonly found throughout America’s history, is the divide between the rich upper class and the working middle and lower classes. Obama energetically states, “Inequality has deepened…what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” He also comments on the fact that, “Those at the top have never done better.” These statements highlight the continuing conflict between the social classes, one that still hasn’t been solved since the days of the prosperous plantation owners and monopolistic corporations.

Another focus of Obama’s address was education. Some of the improvements he is moving to make towards education are providing high-quality pre-K to every 4-year-old, investing in partnerships with states to reform schools, and helping college students pay off their loans. President Obama focuses on improving the standard of today’s education by pledging to use solutions that are both productive and cost-effective.

Besides education reform and the economy, the looming threat of American defeat by foreign countries in global competition is still at the forefront of issues addressed, both in 1790 and present-day. “China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines, and neither should we. We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender.” Obama adds to this by stating that creating more innovations like Google and smartphones boosts America past the other countries. Later in the address he talks about how America is slowly becoming more economically independent and how we are becoming the global leader of production in oil, natural gas, and solar energy.

In contrast, Washington focuses on national defense when addressing the subject of foreign countries. He talks about the establishment of troops to defend the newly-formed country from negative foreign influence, and says that every man should be armed. Washington also said that, “[America] should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.” In referencing both Washington’s and Obama’s views on foreign relations, we can see that America has grown exponentially as an international powerhouse since the days of the Revolutionary War. Washington was more concerned on protecting America from the European powers, but Obama is more concerned on becoming a stronger economic power in the world, showing that America has already established its reputation as having the most powerful military.

Obama and Washington are both concerned about the well-being of the economy. Washington stressed the importance of a uniform currency, along with weights and measures. He also pushed for the advancement of of agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing, much like Obama. Washington also promotes the use of foreign inventions to further improve the manufacturing skill of the nation, while also encouraging the production of innovations at home.

On education, Washington promotes the learning of science and literature and says that, “Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.” He also supported the institution of a national university and “affording aids to seminaries of learning already established.”

Considering both Obama’s and Washington’s policies on running America, I think we can safely say that America’s priorities haven’t changed so much since 1790, save for the fact that it is now a military powerhouse and can focus on furthering the welfare of the economy.



George Washington: “First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union,” January 8, 1790. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

Barack Obama: “Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on the State of the Union,” January 28, 2014. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.



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