In his farewell, Obama lauds faith in change

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE -

In his part­ing mes­sage to the na­tion, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­clared his con­tin­ued faith in the abil­ity of all Amer­i­cans to bring about pow­er­ful na­tional change, de­spite the tri­als of the last eight years that so of­ten stood be­tween him and his goals.

Stand­ing be­fore thou­sands in his home­town of Chicago, Obama re­flected on his ori­gins as a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer who wit­nessed “the quiet dig­nity of work­ing peo­ple in the face of strug­gle and loss” and ar­gued that change was only pos­si­ble “when or­di­nary peo­ple get in­volved” and join forces to de­mand progress.

“Af­ter eight years as your pres­i­dent, I still be­lieve that,” Obama said. “And it’s not just my be­lief. It’s the beat­ing heart of our Amer­i­can idea, our bold ex­per­i­ment in self-gov­ern­ment.”

Now an el­der states­man, Obama re­turned to the city that launched his un­likely po­lit­i­cal ca­reer to bring his eight years as pres­i­dent to a close. His speech at Chicago’s McCormick Place was his last chance to try to de­fine what his pres­i­dency meant for Amer­ica.

It was a fit­ting book­end to what he started in Chicago. It was here in 2008 that the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent de­clared vic­tory, and where over the years he tried to cul­ti­vate his brand of op­ti­mism in Amer­i­can politics.

In his speech, Obama in­voked the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence’s teach­ings about equal­ity and un­alien­able rights, and its chal­lenge to Amer­i­cans to take it upon them­selves to de­fend those rights and im­prove Amer­ica’s democ­racy.

“This is the great gift our Founders gave us,” Obama said. “The free­dom to chase our in­di­vid­ual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imag­i­na­tion — and the im­per­a­tive to strive to­gether as well, to achieve a greater good.”

The pres­i­dent ar­rived in Chicago in the evening joined by an ar­ray of long-serv­ing White House ad­vis­ers and peo­ple from his past, in­clud­ing his sis­ter Auma Obama from Kenya. First lady Michelle Obama, daugh­ter Malia and fam­ily friends came along for what the White House said was Obama’s 445th mis­sion aboard Air Force One.

Obama has said he is leav­ing his eight years in of­fice still con­fi­dent that the democratic sys­tem re­sponds when ded­i­cated cit­i­zens make their voices heard. The sys­tem did re­spond, in Novem­ber, to Amer­i­cans who by and large re­jected Obama’s poli­cies by elect­ing Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump.

Obama and Democrats had warned against a Trump pres­i­dency in apoc­a­lyp­tic terms. So Obama’s daunt­ing task in the clos­ing act of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was to ex­plain how his vi­sion of Amer­ica re­mains rel­e­vant and achiev­able for Democrats in the Trump era.

No stranger to high-stakes speeches, Obama rose to na­tional promi­nence on the power of his or­a­tory. De­ter­mined not to sim­ply re­cite a his­tory of the last eight years, Obama di­rected his team to craft an ad­dress that would feel “big­ger than politics” and speak to all Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing those who voted for Trump.

His chief speech­writer, Cody Keenan, started writ­ing it last month while Obama was va­ca­tion­ing in Hawaii, hand­ing him the first draft on the flight home. By late Mon­day Obama was im­mersed in a fourth draft, with Keenan stay­ing at the White House all night to help pol­ish Obama’s fi­nal mes­sage.

Ahead of his speech, Obama ac­knowl­edged that while he leaves of­fice with his work unfinished, he be­lieves his ad­min­is­tra­tion made the US “a stronger place for the gen­er­a­tions that will fol­low ours.”

Seek­ing in­spi­ra­tion, Obama’s speech­writ­ers spent weeks por­ing over his other mo­men­tous speeches, in­clud­ing his 2004 key­note at the Democratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion and his 2008 speech af­ter los­ing the New Hamp­shire pri­mary to Hil­lary Clin­ton. They also re­vis­ited his 2015 ad­dress in Selma, Alabama, that both hon­ored Amer­ica’s ex­cep­tion­al­ism and ac­knowl­edged its painful his­tory on civil rights.

Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and his wife were also trav­el­ing to Chicago for the speech at McCormick Place, a sprawling con­ven­tion cen­ter along Lake Michi­gan.

JOHN GRESS / REUTERS

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ac­knowl­edges the crowd as he ar­rives to de­liver his farewell ad­dress in Chicago, Illi­nois on Tues­day.

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