Sounding more like the candidate of hope and change, U.S. President Barack Obama looked past members of Congress and delivered his final State of the Union message straight to the American people.
“I want to focus on the future,” the president opened his speech to a packed chamber in the House of Representatives.
He added, “America has been through big changes before – wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears.”
With the first contest of the 2016 campaign a mere three weeks away in Iowa, Obama repeatedly addressed the harsh tone of the political debate.
He said that, “talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.” And “when politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer.”
The president declared that, “democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic.”
“It will only happen if we fix our politics,” he said.
During an appearance on the “Today” show before the speech, the president expressed “regret” on his inability to change the tone of partisan politics. In a rare moment of reflection, he added, “Things that I’ve done well during the campaign, I've not always done well as president."
In the hour-long speech, Obama recited the accomplishments of his last seven years in office, from the affordable care act to education reform, from climate change to job creation, and from an agreement to contain nuclear Iran to efforts to contain the Islamic State.
Despite the president’s attempts to present his vision of a bright future for America, many Americans are not convinced.
A CBS/New York Times poll released earlier in the day shows that Americans are equally divided on Obama’s performance as president. Forty-six percent of Americans approve and 47 percent disapprove.
More importantly, a public opinion poll taken last month for NBC/Wall Street Journal shows that seven out of 10 Americans believe that the country is heading “off on the wrong track.”
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley delivered the official Republican Party response following the speech from Obama. She said, “The President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words.”
“As he enters his final year in office, many Americans are still feeling the squeeze of an economy too weak to raise income levels.” Haley added, “Even worse, we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.”
A daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley agreed with Obama on his call for civility in the immigration debate. She said, "During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome."
Among those in attendance as guests of the first lady were a gay rights activist and a Syrian refugee. And there was an empty chair for the victims of gun violence.
I’m Jim Tedder.
Hai Do wrote this story for Learning English. Jim Tedder was the editor.