President's farewell speech challenges Americans to make change happen
CHICAGO, Ill. — President Barack Obama marked the end of his presidency with a message of hope. In a farewell speech Tuesday night, he challenged Americans to commit to democratic values and persist in their desire for change.
From his hometown of Chicago, Obama spoke about his transition from being the nation’s most powerful person to one he feels is equally important: citizen.
Americans have had increasingly less trust in politics during his time in office, Obama said. Nonetheless, he insisted that change happens when “ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”
“After eight years as your president, I still believe that,” he said, "and it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.”
Speech Sets The Stage For What's Next
Obama, who was born and raised in Hawaii, decided to deliver his final major national speech from Chicago instead of the White House. He considers the city his adopted hometown. He followed in the footsteps of a long tradition of presidential goodbyes. They have produced some of the most famous speeches in presidential history, including George Washington’s Farewell Address and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning of the military-arms industry.
Tuesday’s address was meant to be a celebration. Obama spoke in a large convention hall a few blocks from Grant Park in downtown Chicago, the city where he said he found purpose in public life. Chicago-area native Eddie Vedder, a member of the band Pearl Jam, warmed up the crowd. He led the Chicago Children’s Choir in the song, “People Have the Power.” As the president made his way to the arena, staff members and supporters started up his campaign chant, “Fired up! Ready to go!”
At just 55 years old, Obama is preparing for life after the presidency. He is planning on championing many of the same issues he worked on in the White House, including the rights of blacks and other minorities, and opportunities for young people. In many public surveys, just below 60 percent of people approve of his job as president. That makes him one of the nation’s most popular political officials.
"You Were The Change"
Obama’s remarks touched only slightly on his achievements in office. He talked about improving the economy. He spoke about restoring the diplomatic relationship with Cuba and a deal with Iran to slow its nuclear program. He also spoke about marriage equality in the United States and expanding health care to 20 million Americans who did not have insurance.
He also said those achievements were not his alone.
“You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started,” he said.
After a bitter presidential campaign, he also showed concern about how President-elect Donald Trump will handle many of the issues that are central to any administration. They include relationships with other countries, national security and the economy.
He warned that American unity is in danger. The audience booed when he spoke about Trump taking office on January 20. He said that the country must create opportunities for everyone, or people will be even more divided in the years to come.
Worries About What Is Coming
The nation’s first black president spoke about the racial problems between blacks and whites, which he called “as old as our nation itself.” He called for greater understanding and acceptance.
“Laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change,” he said.
Senior advisers say Obama knows that many people are worried about the next president. Trump was elected after promising to crack down on immigration and keep a close eye on Muslims in the United States.
The remarks were expected to be Obama’s final speech in office, though he might still conduct one more news conference before he steps aside.
Leaving A Message Of Hope
Throughout his presidency, Obama has used his position to inspire, condemn and convince. He was always heavily involved in writing his biggest speeches.
Obama worked on his speech for hours over the weekend and was still at work on it until the last minute.
After the president leaves the Oval Office, he plans to take some time to “quiet” himself and contemplate the last eight years, said Valerie Jarrett, the president’s longtime adviser and family friend. He does not plan on speaking out publicly on relatively small events, friends say.
He wants to give Trump “room to do his homework,” Jarrett said.
At the same time, Obama knows that the country will pay attention to what he says, and if something troubles him, he might speak out. But for now, he wants to leave a message of hope as he walks off the world stage.