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State Of The Union Address: Lame-Duck President's Farewell Speech


And let's talk more about the speech now with Mary Stuckey. She teaches political science and communications at Georgia State University. She's also author of a book called "Political Rhetoric." Professor Stuckey, good morning to you.

MARY STUCKEY: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. I wonder, as you listen to this speech - not many specifics from President Obama. Is that what you would expect from a final act like this?

STUCKEY: It is what I expected. And this is because, at this point in his term, it's, in many ways, more about the large narrative - the meta-narrative - than it is about the small details of policy because this was Obama as party leader going into an election. And what he's doing is setting the large frame for the conversation that's going to happen during the campaign to come.

GREENE: Interesting. So you're saying this was very much about helping his party in this election year. What is something you heard that sort of fits into that narrative?

STUCKEY: Well, a lot of what he talked about - about we can make choices, right? So he gave us four big questions that he thought the nation had to answer. So he sets up the questions, and then he tells us implicitly how to answer them. We are not the people who believe in the politics of fear. And the vision therefore implied is much closer to the one offered by the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. What he really did was offer us a vision of national identity, right? And the end of the speech was sort of signature Obama eloquence on who we should be as a people.

GREENE: With these four questions he said the country needs to answer in the speech, were there some echoes there with President Roosevelt and the four freedoms he brought up - freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Was that deliberate?

STUCKEY: I have to think that that echo was a little bit deliberate. Certainly the Four Freedoms Speech is the only State of the Union address ever to make the list of the top-100 speeches of the 20th century, and there's a reason for that. And the four freedoms, of course, have gotten a lot of play recently, as well. But it was an artful echo because it was an updated echo, and it was one that speaks to our time. And if you can get people to buy into the big, expansive vision, then the rest of the politics becomes easier.

GREENE: President Obama said that a president with a last name of Roosevelt or Lincoln would have been better able to heal the political divide than he has been. Was that a significant admission of failure on the president's part?

STUCKEY: I think it's a sadness for him that the opposition to him has been so entrenched and so obdurate. But, you know, Lincoln talked about healing the nation's wounds. But those wounds festered for a very long time. So I think he's making a nod there that he's not claiming the kind of greatness we attribute to Lincoln. But it's also true that we have always been, in many ways, a divided nation. And that - that is something that we have to live with and we have to accommodate or, you know, the consequences of that are violent and bloody and not at all good.

GREENE: Mary Stuckey is a professor of communications and political science at Georgia State University. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

STUCKEY: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.