Barack Obama offers supporters more hope in emotional farewell speech
President Barack Obama delivered a farewell address Tuesday defending his record as president and championing a robust liberal agenda in the face of Donald Trump’s impending presidency.
In Chicago, the birthplace of his political career, Obama spoke in front of a supportive crowd who chanted “Four more years!” as he came on stage. Indeed, much of the speech sounded like candidate Obama as he laid out a “new social compact” focused on promoting economic mobility, embracing Latino immigrants, finding a path forward on race relations, and rejecting discrimination against Muslim Americans.
The outgoing president also assured the crowd that, “Yes, we did,” referencing his 2008 campaign slogan Yes we can. He ticked off a list of his highest-profile accomplishments during his eight years in office, including healthcare reform, the Iran nuclear deal, and the opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
But, Obama said, his real focus Tuesday night was the state of American democracy. In what seemed like an attempt to explain how Trump won his office, Obama pointed to stark divisions in income, race, and partisanship.
He addressed each with several of the same arguments he used in some of his best-known previous speeches, including his 2004 Democratic Convention address and his speech on race in Philadelphia in the midst of his 2008 presidential campaign. He preached empathy, quoted Atticus Finch, and attempted to present arguments to engage both liberals and conservatives. Even after a significant public rebuke in the form of the presidential election result, Obama stuck with the arguments that got him to the Oval Office.
The most enduring presidential farewell addresses — not every president has given one — have included warnings to the American people. Dwight Eisenhower famously raised an alarm over what he dubbed the “military-industrial complex,” and George Washington cautioned the nation about the potential harm of political parties.
Obama did not give a warning as succinct, but he implored Americans to be “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy” and to “throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.” He did not specify whether they were destroyed during his time in office or if he didn’t get around to fully rebuilding them.
The vice president, first family (minus Sasha), most of the Cabinet, senior staff, and loads of former advisers and campaign workers flew to Chicago for the farewell speech. But Trump’s victory no doubt dampened the enthusiasm of attendees. Before the speech began, campaign chants frequently sputtered out quickly and audience members debated about whether Trump would be a dictator.
Even a member of Obama’s Cabinet seemed unsure of how to appraise the situation. Asked what Obama’s legacy would be in the wake of Trump’s victory, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro told VICE News simply: “It’s too early to tell.”