State of the Union: Barack Obama Sells Optimism to Anxious Nation

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TEHRAN (Tasnim) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged Americans in his final State of the Union address to reject the politics of tribalism and fear that have rocked the campaign to find his successor and to build a "clear-eyed, big-hearted" and "optimistic" nation.

Delivering his annual report to the nation, Obama did not name Republican 2016 candidates. But he took clear, implied shots at them nevertheless, particularly front-runner Donald Trump, as well as Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. America's destiny, the President said, was imperiled by a political system festering in malice, gridlock and in the grip of the rich and the powerful.

Obama also took on critics who accuse him of weakening American power abroad and Republicans who say he is underplaying the threat from radical groups such as ISIL. He mocked the contention that fighters on "on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages" represented an existential threat to America.

The President acknowledged that a torrent of change, technological advances and economic dislocation has left many Americans fearful of the future and anxious as social structures that have underpinned the life of the nation for decades fray. But he urged them not to fall prey to the periodic temptation that has emerged throughout history to alienate minorities and resist social change.

"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," Obama said. "And each time, we overcame those fears."

n a way, Obama's seventh and last State of the Union address was a microcosm of his entire presidency: He invoked a chorus of hope and optimism about America's destiny and the transformative nature of change but was undercut by the poisoned political divides he has been unable to narrow -- and that have even grown during his presidency, CNN reported.

Then he encountered fierce opposition from Republicans who believe he has transformed the nation by eroding its exceptional qualities and thwarting the Constitution.

Obama also vowed -- once again -- to fight to close the war on terror camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, renewing one of the first promises of his presidency that has been thwarted by Congress. He called the facility a "recruitment brochure for our enemies and was expensive and unnecessary."

The first African-American president also offered a detailed rebuttal of the kind of politics that alienates people rather than unites them. At times, Obama was almost pleading with his audience to embrace the vision of hope and change that swept him to power and then was sullied by the bitter realities of polarized politics over a darker vision of America's character.

"What I am asking for his hard. It's easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn't possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don't matter," Obama said.

"But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future."

It seemed clear that the President had Trump in his thoughts.

"As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don't look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background," Obama said, voicing a familiar critique of Democrats and some Republicans at the rhetoric of the billionaire real estate mogul whose populist campaign has taken American politics by storm.

"We can't afford to go down that path. It won't deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world."

After weeks of intense campaigning, Obama did not make gun control a centerpiece of his speech. But he did leave a seat open in the first lady's guest box, in a stark reminder of silenced victims of gun violence.

And he slammed Republicans who have responded to the spread of ISIL across much of the Middle East and the group's apparent widening of its target list to Europe and the United States, by warning that its rise is a threat to America itself.

"As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands," Obama said.

"They do not threaten our national existence. That's the story ISIL wants to tell; that's the kind of propaganda they use to recruit," Obama said, warning against pushing away vital Americans allies in the Middle East by "echoing the lie" that the group represents Islam.

"We just need to call them what they are  -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed," he said, warning that "tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians" may work as a soundbite but don't pass muster on the world stage. Obama's comments appeared aimed at Cruz, who has warned he would carpet bomb ISIL and Rubio, who says America is waging an existential fight against radical terrorism.

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