In a sweeping rhetorical indictment of anti-science philosophy, like climate change denial, President Barack Obama avoided a litany of policy proposals in favor of big ideas at his final State of the Union speech.
Perhaps the most astonishing detail contained in Obama's speech was his goal for America to find a cure for cancer. To spearhead that task, he designated Vice President Joe Biden – whose son Beau died of cancer last year.
"I'm putting Joe in mission control," Obama remarked, touching on his comparison of curing cancer with America's past, and achieved, goal of reaching the moon successfully. "For the loved ones we've all lost, for the families we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all."
Throughout the speech, Obama rejected much of the rhetoric championed by his political opponents, saying that the United States was by far the strongest country in the world. When he said those who claim America's enemies are getting stronger were exaggerating, he received uncomfortable murmurs from the Republican side of the U.S. House chamber.
While Obama spoke, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan actively avoided reacting, at times failing to conceal a stray strained squint. Vice President Joe Biden, on the other hand, regularly smiled and aggressively nodded – as in years past.
The president categorically rejected rhetoric he said "builds up" ISIS, adding that the authoritarian regime posed no existential threat to the United States. Further rejecting conservative conventional wisdom, Obama insisted the Islamic State was not a foe akin to Nazi Germany but instead simply "killers and fanatics."
He then listed several terrorist leaders his administration has neutralized or killed, saying that if terrorists a world away doubted America's strength they ought to "just ask Osama bin Laden."
The president brought humor occasionally to his rhetoric.
Touching on climate change denial, Obama, humorously feigning disbelief, declared, "We didn't deny Sputnik was up there," drawing laughs from Democrats with an allusion to America's alarm when the Russians launched the world's first satellite into outer space. That event spurred America to action – and eventually to the moon.
Likewise, when Obama talked about structural changes to the economy, he remarked that the only Americans who will work the same job for 30 years and retire with a pension were sitting in the House chamber listening to his speech. Light laughs and a brief howl came from the audience.
Attendees laughed when Obama remarked, "I'm guessing we won't agree on healthcare anytime soon." That line elicited a moment between Vice President Biden and Speaker Ryan where both looked at each other, Biden smiled and Ryan shrugged sheepishly.
Still, Obama's speech was overall a serious analysis of the political climate.
When "a kid is called names, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country," Obama declared to thunderous applause from many attendees.
The president revealed that the biggest regret of his presidency was the fact that the rancor between Democrats and Republicans had "gotten worse." Nonetheless, Obama insisted he would do whatever he could to mitigate the acrimony.
"This cannot be my task or any president's task alone," Obama said, calling America's leaders and citizens to greater comity.
Notably absent from Obama's speech was the typical declaration of any president that the state of America's union was strong.
That, he saved for the end.
"I believe in change because I believe in you – the American people," Obama concluded, "I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong."