Obama's pursuit of legacy in the State of the Union address

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Obama’s pursuit of legacy in the State of the Union address

January 13, 2016 -

President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night. It ran for just under an hour and provided a list of his presidential accomplishments. The president also previewed what we can expect over his final months in office and called for greater unity and courage in situations where fear is often our first response. Overall, it largely met pundits’ expectations and set the stage for Obama’s planned tour of the nation in which he will continue to advocate for the key points of his speech.

As part of that tour, many expect the president to begin trying to lay the necessary groundwork for the Democratic nominee to have a better chance of succeeding him this November. As CNN‘s Stephen Collinson speculates, ensuring that either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is the next president is especially important for Obama because “Republicans have vowed to dismantle key aspects of [his] legacy immediately if they win back the presidential mansion after eight years, including Obamacare, a nuclear deal with Iran, executive actions shielding immigrants and policies designed to slow or reverse climate change.”

Essentially, if the president wants to ensure his legacy, he needs a Democratic successor. Given that so much of his time in office has been dedicated to those ends, it is only natural that he would want to preserve them. How he is remembered a century from now will largely depend on the long-term viability of those policies.

My purpose today is not to comment on whether or not those policies deserve to continue (that is a conversation that has and will continue to dominate the political discussion throughout the election). Rather, I’d like to think with you for a moment on the idea of legacy.

You see, for some people, how they will be remembered and the accomplishments they will leave behind dominate their thoughts and motivate their actions more than any other factor. While such an approach can lead people to accomplish great things, it can also make them so focused on their desired ends that they fail to consider the larger context in which their decisions take place. Such an approach can cause us to forget that every action has consequences for those around us in addition to ourselves and that, sometimes, compromise is more beneficial for the whole than is getting your way.

For others, the opposite is true. Legacy is more a concept that remains on the periphery of their thinking until it becomes too late to really do anything about it. While they may be better able to take stock of the larger situation in order to understand how one’s decisions impact others, they are also less likely to accomplish anything of note because they lack a sense of purpose that extends beyond the moment.  

Like with many aspects of life, we must seek balance between those two extremes. However, that balance is further complicated by the fact that most of us are naturally bent toward one end of the spectrum or the other. Staying somewhere in the middle can be a constant struggle. Fortunately, we serve a God who knows that difficulty better than we ever will because that’s how he made us.

And I think part of the reason we’re wired that way is that it reminds us, or at least it should remind us, that we were not meant to do this life alone. We need people that are different from us, people that can see things from the opposite perspective, if we are to guard against going too far towards one extreme or the other. We have that kind of diversity in the Body of Christ and, if we are willing to allow them to keep us accountable, our fellow believers can help us keep that balance with the pursuit of our goals and in every other aspect of our lives as well (1 Corinthians 12).

Leaving behind a legacy that points people to God should be one of our chief concerns as Christians. However, we have to find a balance that allows us to pursue the goals to which he has called us in a way that glorifies him. Scripture is filled with examples of people that failed to keep that balance and their legacy consistently falls short of God’s desire for their lives. Will the same be said of you?

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