Obama touts legacy in last State of the Union

In a wide-ranging speech, U.S. President Barack Obama sets a hopeful tone for 2016 as he touts progress made in two terms.

WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (JANUARY 12, 2016) (RESTRICTED POOL) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday (January 12) gave his final State of the Union address, stopping about a dozen times for applause as he touted some of the themes he hoped will become his legacy.

“Tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty – from helping students learn to write computer code, to personalizing medical treatments for patients. And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs to be done,” he said, joking that many in the House chambers needed to get back to Iowa to campaign for his job.

Obama knocked Republican presidential candidates for anti-Muslim rhetoric and accused critics of playing into the hands of Islamic State in a speech aimed at setting an optimistic tone for his last year in office.

He also said it was fiction to declare the United States was in economic decline or getting weaker on the international stage.

“Our unique strengths as a nation – our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to the rule of law – these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. In fact, it’s that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years,” Obama said.

“That’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations. That’s how we reformed our health care system and reinvented our energy sector. That’s how, that’s how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and our veterans. That’s how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love,” he added.

The president emphasized areas where compromise was possible with Republicans in Congress, including criminal justice reform, trade and poverty reduction, and he called for lawmakers to ratify a Pacific trade pact, advance tighter gun laws and lift an embargo on Cuba.

The president also said he regretted not having been able to elevate U.S. political discourse during his time in office.

But he called for unity amid the country’s diversity.

“Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a little over year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen – inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness, that have helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed,” he said.

Obama is eager for a Democrat to win the White House to preserve his legacy, but anger over his policies and fears about security threats have helped push non-traditional candidates to the fore in the Republican and, to a lesser extent, the Democratic races to succeed him.

Self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont is giving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tough competition in early voting states for the Democratic primary contest.

Obama symbolically had a chair left empty in the box where First Lady Michelle Obama was sitting in honor of those who have died from gun violence. The hashtag #EmptySeat was trending heavily on Twitter in response to the gesture.

The single reference to “gun” compared with four mentions of “climate change” and 15 to the “economy.”

Obama apparently has delivered on his promise to keep this year’s speech shorter: The text of his speech unofficially comes in at 5,438 words versus 6,776 in his 2015 speech.