LAURINBURG — President Barack Obama used Tuesday’s State of the Union address to offer an optimistic vision built on economic progress while seeking to ease Americans’ growing concern about national security.
Local members of the incumbent president’s political party — Democrats — hoped he would also use the speech to urge voters to stay the course with Democrats in November.
Scotland County Republicans wanted Obama to simply tell the truth.
President Obama emphasized that there’s more to do during his last year, including finalizing a Pacific Rim trade pact, enacting criminal justice reforms, implementing the landmark nuclear deal with Iran and building on detente with Cuba.
“I also understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we’ll achieve this year are low,” Obama told members of Congress. “Still, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families. We just might surprise the cynics again.”
Obama also reiterated the steps his administration is taking to curb the Islamic State group’s power in the Middle East and limit its ability to carry out attacks in the West. But the presidents was also critical of those appealing to Americans’ fear and prejudices.
“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,” Obama said. “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. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.”
The president also talked about the success of his economic measures.
“More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s; an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years,” Obama said “And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.
“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”
Jan Schmidt, a former Scotland County Democratic party chair, said she had wanted to hear “President Obama talk about all of the successes he’s made in the last seven years improving the economy,” despite a push back by a Republican-led Congress hostile to his ideas and angry about his executive orders on issues from guns to immigration.
Schmidt attended a celebratory party in Laurinburg with friends as she watched the State of the Union address.
She added that she wanted Obama to use the speech and his last year in office to help unify to the nation.
“I hope to see him changing the language of people who are not always like us, different color, different religion, different background,” she said. “We can agree to disagree, but be kind, listening and courteous. We don’t have to agree on everything. Name calling has no place in civil course.”
With the address coming three weeks before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, the president did try to provide a counterpoint to what the White House sees as a doom-and-gloom message from GOP candidates.
Some of the candidates vying to succeed Obama were in the House chamber for the president’s remarks, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination.
But Mark Schenck, chairman of the Scotland County Republican Party, said it is the president who has been divisive.
“I hope to hear some truth for a change to be honest,” Schenck said before Tuesday’s address. “This will be a great opportunity. He’s completely divided the country. It’s hard for me to take anything he says serious.”
For Schenck, the untruths started to unfold with the Fast and Furious. He also lists the president’s take on immigrants and talk about the construction jobs with the stimulus package as things that haven’t been presented honestly.
Schenck is even critical of Obama’s State of the Union guest.
“He’s supposed to have a Syrian refuge in the special seat,” he said. “That all started when that pilot landed the plane in the Potomac River saving all those lives. President Reagan started that and now it’s being used as a political purpose. He’s deteriorated that too.”
Schenck thinks the president’s focus is more on climate change and taking people’s guns away.
For his last year in office he wants Obama to reconnect the country and give citizens an honest assessment of the state of the nation.
“That’s something that we haven’t see from him in quite some time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.