The first Black President of the United States will leave office at noon on January 20. The run-up to his departure has been featured in interviews, endless retrospectives and analyses.
During an unseasonably warm night in Chicago, President Barack Obama shared his thoughts and experiences with a hometown crowd, as his final days in office approached.
“Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight, it’s my turn to say, ‘Thanks.’ Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people, in living rooms and in schools, at farms, on factory floors, at diners and on distant military outposts — those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going,” President Obama told the crowd.
Tickets for the farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill., were difficult to come by. People waited in line for hours to secure them.
The President’s voice was emotional several times. The President went over some of the many successes of his eight years in office and asked Americans to renew efforts at reconciliation.
“After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief,” said Obama. “It’s the beating heart of our American idea –- our bold experiment in self-government. It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that ‘We, the People,’ through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union,” he told the crowd shortly before chants of “four more years” were heard.
The President also mentioned issues that remain problems as he leaves office, such as income inequality.
“While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics,” said Obama.
In some cities and towns, income inequality and poverty got worse over the last eight years. In the 2016 election, the “America first” message delivered by Donald Trump, and the inequality arguments repeated by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren, opened a discussion about economic mobility and the American dream.
One of the major takeaways of Obama’s time in office was that a strategy of obstruction against the first Black President of the United States served as a reminder that, for many in polities on the right, a zero sum game is better than allowing political opponents to make decisions.
It took the first Black President a few years to fully recognize the determination of his opposition. But even through that period, he was able to achieve some sizable victories for the American people.
“If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history, if I had told you that we would 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, if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizen,” said Obama, as he catalogued his political wins.
Obama continued: “If I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.”