Obama Urges Optimism For ‘Anxious’ US


President Barack Obama has vigorously defended his legacy while striking an optimistic note for America’s future in his final State of the Union address.

He criticised the negative tone of the current presidential race, arguing the US has the “strongest, most durable economy in the world”.

“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” Mr Obama told lawmakers in Washington.

Republican presidential hopefuls attacked many of his assertions.

And South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said in the party’s official response his record “had fallen short of his soaring words”.

Mr Obama’s speech to Congress highlighted what he saw as his achievements in office, such as health reform.

This will be an address remembered not for its policy prescriptions, but for its upbeat assessment of how much better America is today than when Barack Obama came to office, BBC North American editor Jon Sopel says.

He adds that with just a year to go and a Republican Congress, there is neither the time nor the votes to get much done.

‘Fixing politics’

“For my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to talk just about the next year. I want to focus on the next five years, 10 years, and beyond,” President Obama said.

“I want to focus on our future.”

He rejected suggestions by politicians and commentators that America’s economy is getting weaker.

However, he added: “What is true – and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious – is that the economy has been changing in profound ways.”

Mr Obama focused on the need to tackle income inequality, use technology to combat climate change and maintain national security while not becoming mired in foreign conflicts.


He called on voters and politicians to change the divisive tone of politics and to “change the system to reflect our better selves”.

Mr Obama said a major regret of his presidency was that Republicans and Democrats had become more hostile towards each other.

“Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention,” he said.

And he took indirect aim to Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump who has been criticised for his comments about Muslims and immigrants.

“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalised, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer,” Mr Obama said.

“That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong… And it betrays who we are as a country.”

He also announced a new national cancer research initiative that Vice-President Joe Biden will be leading.

He only mentioned guns briefly, despite a recent policy push for executive actions on gun control, though a chair was left empty in the chamber to symbolise victims of gun violence.

Mrs Haley said Mr Obama “spoke eloquently about grand things”, but that his “record has fallen short of his soaring words”.

“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation,” the South Carolina governor said, likely referring to Mr Trump but not mentioning him by name.

She said Republicans must recognise their role in the declining trust in government in the US.

“We have big decisions to make. Our country is being tested,” she said.

“But we’ve been tested in the past, and our people have always risen to the challenge.”