Tonight marks President Obama’s last State of the Union address, a ritual that combines the trappings of power and a laundry list of wishes unlikely to be fulfilled. The president is a lame duck (although he doesn’t always act like one), and a Republican-controlled Congress is not about to act upon anything that would benefit us or Obama. (They prefer to wait for President Rubio’s first day in office. Otherwise known as the twelfth of never.)
Despite the limits of time and power that Obama faces, he still commands the nation’s attention. The State of the Union is one last time for him to point the country in the direction of its better self.
Here are five things that the president should be talking about in his speech.
1. Tell America that the next battle is for transgender rights
Time to turn some attention to the final letter in the fight for LGBT rights. In 2014, Obama signed an executive order banning workplace discrimination against transgender people working for federal contractors. But the president hasn’t been all that vocal about the the need for the next frontier for freedom and equality.
2. Pledge to eradicate HIV
President Nixon declared a war on cancer. Isn’t it about time that we declare war on HIV? Eradicating the virus is bold (and improbable), but then so was the moon shot. Three years ago, Obama said that“an AIDS-free generation was within sight.” Nice sentiment, but the administration’s fight against HIV has been more dutiful than inspired. Obama could set the bar for his successor to step up the fed’s game and turn the tide against the virus once and for all.
3. Shame Congress over ENDA
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn’t going anywhere as long as Republicans control the House, which is to say for the foreseeable future. But the fact that you can get married and yet also get fired is a national scandal that has to be corrected. That change won’t happen in 2016, but Obama can make a point of highlighting the inequity and calling out opponents of nondiscrimination protections. Which leads to…
4. Take the right side in the religious liberty debate
With his respectful acknowledgment of both sides of an issue, Obama is the ideal person to talk about the concern that religious conservatives have over marriage equality, but also to explain why religious liberty laws are wrong. Not that his argument will carry any weight with the right wing, but he could help illuminate the issue for the average American and help set the parameters for the debate going forward.
5. Predict that the country will elect a gay president this century
Obama has never dwelled on the racial barrier that he broke with his election. But he could talk about how the country has changed, and the future occupants of the White House will reflect that change. That will some day include a gay or lesbian president (and a Muslim president). Of course, for right-wing nut cases, that day may arrive if Hillary Clinton is elected to the Oval Office.
For those of you with a long memory, this list bares a resemblance to the issues that Queerty raised before last year’s State of the Union. That’s unfortunate proof of Obama’s caution and also his sense of priorities. Perhaps he feels he’s tackled the issues that need to be tackled and the rest will be left to his successor. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if Obama decided to push the envelop on LGBT issues one last time before he leaves the White House?
Tonight will tell us whether he wants to or not.