By Veronica Mackey
With just days left in the White House, President Barack Obama gave his farewell speech on Tuesday in Chicago, his hometown and the place that gave him his start in politics.
Getting a ticket to the packed event was as challenging as his unlikely ascent to the White House. On Jan. 7, folks began lining up as early as 2am to improve their chances of getting in. On eBay, free tickets started showing up at $5,000 each.
Weather-wise, it was the worst time of year to be in Chicago. The temperature was around 30 degrees when the president landed on Air Force One Tuesday night. But when he walked onstage at McCormick Place and waved to the crowd, the waiting and cold weather became distant memories.
The speech was a perfect blend of, patriotism, tender moments, and long list of achievements. “You made me a better president and you’ve made me a better man,” he told the crowd.
As President Obama touted the high points of his administration, a sobering reality set in that of the hundreds of speeches made during his last 8 years, this was really the final one.
The crowd chanted “Four more years!” Wishful thinking.
There were “boos” in the audience when Obama mentioned the incoming president , but he took the high road, saying he promised President-elect Donald Trump his support in making the smoothest transition possible, “just as President Bush did for me.” Trump surprisingly did not tweet anything about the speech.
The president moved on to talk about the progress made under his leadership, including: lower crime, lower poverty levels, more jobs, rising income and property values, 20 million Americans with health insurance, the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, the end of military torture, and the passing of LBGT rights.
Obama also addressed the elephant in the room—the great racial divide—saying his election as America’s first black president in no way signaled the end of racism. This sentiment, he said,
“however well intended, was unrealistic. But I don’t care what anybody says, (race relations) have improved. You can see it in the attitudes of young folks across the political spectrum. . .
“If we’re going to be serious about race discrimination in housing and hiring and the education system, the laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts won’t change, they won’t change overnight. Social attitudes sometimes take generations to change.”
The most touching parts of the president’s speech came when he said his thank-yous.
“For all who are serving and have served, it has been my lifetime honor to be your commander-in-chief.” This statement drew a standing ovation
Taking a swipe at Trump, without mentioning him by name, Obama said it is important to protect our democracy, and take responsibility for the kind of society we want. He warned that we cannot “sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our roles in electing them. He told followers, “If you're disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself.”
Obama closed by urging Americans to keep the faith. He used his election to the U.S. Senate and the White House as reminders of what voting can do. “Some of you were there in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off. Let me tell you, you’re not the only one,” he said.
The farewell speech came to an emotional climax when the president thanked his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, and Vice President Joe Biden. He said to Michelle: “For the past twenty five years, you have not only been my wife and the mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn't ask for. And you made it your own. With grace and with grit, and with style and good humor.”
The crowd erupted with cheers, followed by a huge standing ovation, as the president wiped a tear from his eye.
He told his daughters, “You are thoughtful and you are kind and you are full of passion. . .Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.”
Biden also shed a tear when the president said: “You were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best. In the bargain I gained a brother.”
Obama ended his speech thanking America and repeating the simple chant that became the slogan of his 2008 campaign: “I am asking you to believe not in my ability to bring about change, but yours. Yes, we can. . .yes we can.”