WASHINGTON — With Americans soon to being choosing his successor, U.S. President Barack Obama used his final State of the Union address to rekindle belief in the promise of change that first carried him to the White House, declaring that the country must not allow election-year fear and division to put economic and security progress at risk.
Addressing a hostile Republican-led Congress and a country plunged in a tumultuous, at times angry presidential campaign, Obama used his Tuesday night address to summon an affirmative vision of his administration and for the future.
“All the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air,” Obama said in Tuesday night’s address. “So is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.”
“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close,” he said.
He rebutted critics, naysayers and the Republican White House hopefuls, but also acknowledged his own failure to transform the country’s bitter politics and unite the nation.
With a year left in office, he presented that task as more urgent than ever and pleaded with voters to turn away from harsh voices and come together.
‘Only the most extreme voices get attention’ “Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested,” Obama said. “Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention.”
Obama said “one of the few regrets of my presidency” is “that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”
He specifically called for ending the practice of drawing up some congressional districts in a manner that gives parties an iron grip on House seats. He also urged steps to make voting easier and reduce the influence of money in politics.
The president’s address to both chambers of Congress and a prime-time television audience was meant to both shape his legacy and put his imprint squarely on the race to succeed him.