Hi everyone! Last night was President Barack Obama’s Farewell Address and I wanted to share some thoughts on it. Before I keep going I thought I’d share some real quick “about me” points that you guys might already know if you’ve read a few other posts from me, but may not know if you’re new or that I don’t think I’ve even mentioned before on my blog but are somewhat important.
- I really love politics and would have studied it if my parents hadn’t hated the idea so much.
- I wasn’t able to vote for President Obama the first time he was elected in 2008 as I was too young but I did vote for him the second time, very happily.
- I supported Hillary Clinton the entire election season this time around. I would have voted for her in primary back in 2008 but, again, I was too young to vote still. So I was very, very disappointed by the outcome of the election.
- I have recently read President George Washington’s Farewell Address from 1796, so that’s pretty fresh in my mind watching President Obama’s address.
Now I’ve lived in the Chicagoland area all my life, born and raised, so like anyone else, I was very proud to have a President who got his political start in the city. That pride never left throughout his eight years in office, so it was quite an emotional night for the city! President Obama chose to deliver his Farewell Address at the city’s giant convention center, the McCormick Place (also the largest convention floor area in North America, stuff you learn while working in the event industry!). Tickets were distributed beforehand for the general public so it was nice that Chicagoans got the chance to attend.
I could go on and on about how the streets were all closed downtown, how I wanted to go try to get tickets but chose to not to due to my anxiety in crowds, and so on but I won’t. I’ll get into the speech now!
President Obama walked out to ginormous applause from the crowd. While he was visibly pleased, he did gently remind the crowd “we’re on live tv here. I’ve got to move”. When that didn’t help he joked that it was obvious he was “a lame duck because nobody is following instructions”, which caused a big laugh from the audience once more.
At last the crowd came under control. Now, a lot of opinions beforehand had speculated that the speech would involve not so much a defense of his administration, but rather a call to action to Americans. I feel like it did a lot of both.
During the speech he stated that if he had told Americans “eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation… open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11.. win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for anther 20 million of our citizens… you might have said our sights were set a little too high.” He continued “but that’s what we did. That’s what you did.”
Over and over again he brought up amazing accomplishments that came from his eight years in office, but would turn that onto the people watching. He praised the people for sharing their voice and doing their part to help him succeed in those areas.
Close to the end of his speech he let the American people know that democracy demands the action of the people it governs, and “not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.” He proceeded to task the people with starting conversations about issues, to organize to resolve problems, and to run for office if need be.
Another expectation would be that the President would not necessarily call out the upcoming administration but would warn against their agenda. I feel he did this better than anyone expected considering how disappointed he must be feeling as well.
The President started by thanking the American people for their willingness to speak to him and have honest conversations with him. In turn the audience chanted “four more years” to the President, as they did for the 2012 election. He very amicably stated “I can’t do that” and forged ahead.
When he did bring up the next administration he very eloquently stated “in 10 days the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy… the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected President to the next.” This is always taught in our schools, that we define ourselves by being an example to the world of how transitions of power should work, supported from the previous administration even if the results aren’t what you wanted of that election.
As for his own points, the President chose a three main topics to speak about which he referred to as “the state of our democracy”. He picked three hotly debated topics and reminded the people that “democracy does not require uniformity” as the founding fathers of the country themselves could never agree on a single best way to run the country, and that they eventually had to compromise and knew it was the way forward.
The first was the economic disparity of the nation, criticizing gaps between the people. As he had done earlier in the night, he listed great accomplishments here too, the rise of wages/home values/etc., the falling state of poverty, fairer taxes based on income, low unemployment, and the lowest number of uninsured people in history. He did go on to criticize those who work against the middle class and those who only look out for the top one percent than the country as a whole.
Race was a huge part of his speech as well, and the second point he chose to focus on. The President was widely known as being the first African-American President of the United States. When he was elected many were quick to say that racial discrimination was a thing of the past. As we have seen time and time again, this is not the case. The President even quoted Harper Lee’s character Atticus Finch “who said ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
One powerful quote from the night was when the President pointed out “that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised.”
The third problem he pointed out as a threat to democracy was the bubbles we place ourselves in. When we close ourselves to those who are different than us, we jeopardize the freedom of all as our views become limited and cannot grow.
Another powerful quote (I’m trying to not use so many, but it’s hard!) was when he stated “without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible.”
President Obama also warned against the ignoring of climate change, spoke against torture of American threats, and promoted the involvement of US intervention abroad to protect and spread democracy. He also reminded the American people of domestic threats alongside foreign threats.
As for the positives, the President promoted the military, the millennial generation, and the American spirit for innovation and success. He also stressed the importance for breaking partisan walls and working together to fight for democracy and
Many historical periods were referenced, not only the Revolutionary period, but the Enlightenment age, Great Depression, the racial tensions of the Civil Rights Era, and so on. This speech was a hopeful and energizing look forward while a promotion of the American ideals.
Now just a few more quotes that resonated with me.
For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima, Iraq and Afghanistan. And why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs, as well.So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional — not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow.
Which brings me to my final point: Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions…Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. (Applause.) We, the people, give it meaning… That’s up to us.
My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.
Yes, we can.Yes, we did.Yes, we can.
So that’s some of my thoughts and quite a long recap of the President’s Farewell Address. I’m truly grateful for his eight years of service to the country and like many others, wish there could be another four more. I will look forward instead to four years as a more involved citizen fighting to continue to make America even more amazing than it already is in the face of a terrible threat in the next administration.