Barack Obama's final address
Eagle writer Zach Ewell describes being at the president’s bittersweet farewell speech
Barack Obama is the first of many things to people: the first black president, the first Hawaiian born president and the first president from modern Chicago. Having been born in Chicago myself, I often look at politicians from my state with disgust. We have had no shortage of corrupt public servants, such as the recent Rod Blagojevich, Jesse Jackson Jr., Alexi Giannoulias, Mayor Daley Sr. and three of our past recent governors who were convicted of serious crimes and served time in jail.
President Obama, however, is a wonderful enigma. I was raised by two pre-Trump era Republican parents and personally identify as a cautious independent, and have never been a large advocate for President Obama, however I also haven’t been his largest critic. Perhaps for those reasons, I enjoyed seeing the president’s farewell address in person last Tuesday night.
Although the audience overreacted with loud cheers to even the tiniest bit of humility in the president’s speech, Obama’s farewell was anything but unapologetically buoyant, unlike most who filled the room. I’ve always respected President Obama’s character, although his administration is far from perfect. Sure, there was much more that he could have done on issues such as gun control and stabilizing the Middle East and he even stated so in his farewell address as he declared , “we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do.”
Similar to Bernie Sanders’ campaign which garnered a group of Americans to rally, and which continues to be influential in the U.S. political sphere, Obama’s farewell speech featured a relatable message of continuing his work and the legacy he has created.
If social media has taught us anything, it’s that our generation has no “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” We only have each other to rely on for information and news. And for that reason, it’s important not only to read and listen to what we believe but also to include news outlets that don’t necessarily agree with our own opinions. During his speech, President Obama also addressed confirmation bias in context to the surprise of the Trump-Clinton election upset.
“For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions,” President Obama said. “The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste.”
I was one of the few skeptics who waited over 14 hours in line to see the address - some spent outside in two degree temperatures. Although I am not a Democrat, I will personally miss President Obama and his midwestern charm, compared to the pilot of the reality show that was picked up by the American electoral system. During his speech, President Obama mentioned President-elect Trump’s name once saying, “I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.”
After surveying and interviewing several supporters while in line, there didn’t seem to be much self awareness for any lessons learned from the past election, where the Democratic party failed to win in the House, Senate or the presidency. However there was certainly a sense of work to be done after Obama’s final days in office.
Although President Obama is well liked across this country, Chicagoans and those of us from Illinois have always thought of him as our personal representative. He can be found everywhere in the Chicagoland area, from local restaurants, to book store windows to even the conversations we have about our city. It is undeniable that no one will miss President Obama more than those of us from Chicago.