President Obama proved, one last time before leaving for private life, why America elected him as its first African-American president.
In a nearly hour-long exercise in first-class oratory, the president thanked the people for the role they played in his presidency.
“Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people, in living rooms and in schools, at farms, on factory floors, at diners and on distant military outposts, those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going. And every day, I have learned from you,” he said. “You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”
In the speech, given in front of an enthusiastic live audience of nearly 20,000 in his Chicago hometown and millions more on television, the 44th president also spoke of how Chicago shaped him.
“I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s,” he noted. “And I was still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for a purpose in my life…I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.”
It was at this point that the racially-mixed audiences erupted in chants of, “Four more years! Four more years!”
The Obama years have been good ones for this country. So the speech was as much a thank-you to the American people as it was a victory lap for the president, while simultaneously giving credit back to the people.
“If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11,” he said.
“If I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens —if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. 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.”
We will miss this president. His way with words is a throwback to a bygone era when leaders took pride in what they said and how they said it. Think FDR, JFK, RFK, MLK and even Reagan and [Bill] Clinton in contemporary times.
It will be a while before we see this again, so let’s savor it.