Obama preaches unity, wants U.S. to move on
ARLINGTON, Va. — President Barack Obama laid a wreath in Arlington Cemetery on Friday and used his final Veterans Day speech to deliver a plea for unity and to urge Americans to set aside political grievances and follow the example of those who fight the country’s wars.
“We can practice kindness, we can pay it forward, we can volunteer, and we can serve,” Obama said. “We can respect one another. We can always get each other’s backs. That is what Veterans Day asks all of us to think about.”
As Obama stepped to the presidential lectern, he was welcomed with a long ovation.
The president praised veterans for their quiet and selfless service, but the focus of his remarks was on the need for the country to recover from a bruising election campaign.
Obama noted that the U.S. military is the country’s most diverse institution, comprising immigrants and native-born service members representing all religions and no religion. He said they are all “forged into common service.”
The president referred in the most general way to the bitter election campaign to replace him, which was marred by accusations President Barack Obama defended his record on veterans affairs after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. of racism, sexism and anti-immigrant sentiment.
“Veterans Day often follows a hard-fought political campaign,” he said.
But, the president did not revis- it the slights of the campaign trail, focusing instead on the “the American instinct ... to find strength in our common creed, to forge unity from our great diversity.”
“We can show how much we love our country by loving our neighbors as ourselves,” Obama said.
The president defended his administration’s record on vet- erans issues, noting that he had increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs by 85 percent over the course of his two terms in office, improved access to mental health services and cut veteran homelessness in half.
He urged his successor to continue work on the tragedy of veteran suicides, which claims 20 lives a day, and to resist calls to outsource and privatize the VA.
With just two months left in his term, Obama noted how he’s aged over the past eight years.
He read excerpts from an essay by a middle-schooler who wrote that veterans are special because they will defend people regardless of their race, gender, hair color or other differences.
“After eight years in office, I particularly appreciate that he included hair color,” Obama quipped. Obama then said that “whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness and selflessness is possible, then stop and look to a veteran.”
Before speaking, the president laid a wreath at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns. He bowed his head in silent tribute before a bugler played taps.
Earlier, Obama held a breakfast reception at the White House with veterans and their families.