Barack Obama

Obama is right: Political divide in the United States is hurting Americans and the wider world

The Democratic president and Republican Congress must find a path to compromise despite their differences on a wide range of issues

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 January, 2016, 12:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 January, 2016, 12:09am

The final year of a leader’s term in office is about attaining goals, smoothing the way for a successor and ensuring a legacy. US President Barack Obama’s seventh and last State of the Union speech was laden with hope and optimism.

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He reminded Americans of their country’s greatness and potential, while lamenting that the deep political division between his Democratic Party and opposition Republicans had all but brought progress to a standstill. The message was plain: unless lawmakers put aside differences and do the difficult work of compromise, his concluding 12 months in office would be a year wasted for the world’s most powerful nation.

Obama won the presidency on campaign promises of hope and change. He pledged to alter American politics and the way the government operated. As he enters the last stretch of his second and final term, having successfully steered his country through the worst global economic crisis in generations, he has much to be proud of. Yet relations with China remain strained, terrorism continues to stalk the world, inequality in the US remains rife and the bitterness and suspicion between the two main political parties is preventing effective policymaking.

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There were none of the usual legislative proposals in the speech; instead, it was peppered with rhetoric and notions that put a positive spin on the future. The president took responsibility for failing to achieve his goals, particularly when it came to smoothing partisan politics. He rightly pointed out that the divide was behind a feeling among many Americans of being shut out of the political and economic systems.

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The lack of compromise has led him to resort to using his executive powers rather than seeking compromise. That cannot continue. Lawmakers have an obligation to approve meaningful actions and laws, no matter from which side of the political spectrum they come. Although Obama has limited time left in office, the White House and Congress owe it to Americans and the wider world to work together.