Washington: President Barack Obama used his final State of the Union address to paint a hopeful portrait of America under his leadership, with a resurgent economy and better standing in the world despite racial inequality and growing menace of home-grown terrorism. He also used the occasion to hit out at Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump, who has proposed to temporarily bar all Muslims from travelling to the US.
"We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion," Obama, the first ever African-American President, said in his hour-long prime-time speech marked with applause for as many as 64 times. "When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalised, or a kid bullied, that doesn't make us safer," he noted.
"That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country," Obama said, adding that a better politics doesn't mean one has to agree on everything.
"This is a big country, different regions, different attitudes, different interests," he said. "That's one of our strengths, too," he added. "This isn't a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal, it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith," he said.
Obama said "one of the few regrets" of his presidency was that - after he ran on a message of unity and healing American politics had become more divided and resentful on his watch.
"It's one of the few regrets of my presidency, that the rancour and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," he said, in his final State of the Union address.
Warning that "instability will continue for decades" in many parts of the world including Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama said both al-Qaeda and ISIS pose a direct threat to the US and America's foreign policy has to be focused on the threat from ISIL and Al Qaeda.
"Our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can't stop there. For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world - in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks," he said.
"Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today's world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage," Obama said.
"The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians," Obama said. His comments came as growing menace of home-grown terrorism sparked concerns in the country. Since the California shooting in which a Pakistani origin man and his wife killed 14 people and injured 22 in California and a coordinated string of attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, national security has become America's top priority.
Obama's address this time was focused on cementing his legacy rather than unveiling new policies. He said America has the "strongest" and most durable economy in the world and rejected as "fiction" the assessment by many on economic decline. For the past seven years, he said the goal of his administration has been a growing economy that works better for everybody.
"The talk of America's economic decline is political hot air. Well, 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," Obama said in his eighth and final State of the Union Address to the Congress.
Trying to reignite the great American spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, he emphasised on his dream of transition towards clean energy and doing away with dirty
energy. "I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done: fixing a broken immigration system... protecting our kids from gun violence, equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage," Obama said amidst applause.
Making a strong case for climate change, Obama said, "Now we've got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidise the past, we should invest in the future- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels," he said. "That's why I'm going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system," said the US President.
"Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world, and that's why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation- build everywhere there's a problem," he said. Over the text two days, Obama would be travelling outside Washington to explain to the American people with the key aspects of the State of the Union Address.