President Obama will use his final State of the Union address tonight to lay out an optimistic portrait of the country's future, but will warn that broken politics stands in the way.
"The future we want," Obama will say, according to prepared remarks the White House released before he addresses Congress at 9 p.m. EST, "is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.
"It will only happen if we fix our politics."
His prescription is a call to action for voters who will begin the process of choosing a new president in coming weeks. It is also an acknowledgment of how Obama has been unable to unite Americans in the way he envisioned during his 2008 campaign.
The president will say that America's diversity - including in opinions and attitudes - is its greatest strength. The nation's founders disagreed on the size and scope of government in the 18th century just as Americans do today.
But he will argue that our democracy "does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens" in order to realize America's potential.
Aides have said Obama's speech will be built around a theme of optimism. He will highlight progress he says the country has made since he took office in the depths of the Great Recession, and lay out ideas of how to leverage U.S. strengths in the future.
With the first state primaries and caucuses starting in February, the nationally televised speech represents a deliberate effort to reframe the public debate. In the White House view, Republicans have communicated what one official called an "avalanche of negativity" on the campaign trail and in Congress.
With opinion polls showing Americans remain concerned about the economy and are newly worried about terrorism, the president will urge viewers to put aside their fears and act together for peaceful progress.
"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 will say.
"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.
"Each time, we overcame those fears," he will say. "We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the 'dogmas of the quiet past.' Instead we thought anew, and acted anew."