President Barack Obama delivered his farewell address on Tuesday, the final major planned speech of his presidency.
From Chicago, the president echoed his initial campaign slogan, emphasising everyday Americans’ role in shaping his presidency.
“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,” Obama said.
The president delivered remarks with an uplifting tone that avoided direct clashes with President-elect Donald Trump personally, but championed a message of diversity that contrasted with Trump’s inflammatory campaign rhetoric.
Indeed, Obama shut down some jeers in the crowd when the president mentioned the transition of power to Trump.
“No, no, no,” Obama said when the audience began to boo.
He added: “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.”
The president touted the results of his presidency, noting the lower unemployment rate, and millions of new recipients of health insurance covered under the Affordable Care Act.
But Obama warned of the foreign and domestic threats to American democracy, raising the threat of terrorism and economic inequality.
“A shrinking world, growing inequality, demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and prosperity, but our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland,” Obama said.
“For all the real progress we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles. While the top one per cent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker, the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.
The crowd embraced the president’s speech, at one point repeatedly chanting “Four more years.”
“I can’t do that,” Obama said, laughing.
The speech caps weeks of a White House publicity campaign celebrating the president’s legacy.
In a Medium post last week, the president reflected on the beginning of his first term, including the dire economic environment he inherited when he took office in 2009 amid the financial collapse.
“In the depths of that winter, on January 20, 2009, I stood before you and swore a sacred oath,” Obama wrote. “I told you that day that the challenges we faced would not be met easily or in a short span of time — but they would be met. And after eight busy years, we’ve met them — because of you.”
George Washington was the first president to deliver a farewell address, releasing a textual farewell at the end of his second term.
Though each president tends to craft their addresses in their own mould, outgoing presidents have occasionally used the speech to offer a warning. President Dwight Eisenhower cautioned the public against the creeping influence of the military-industrial complex, the relationship between the military and the private weapons, equipment, and contracting enterprises granted enormous contracts by the Department of Defence.
Obama eschewed the traditional Oval Office setting for the address, opting for a hometown rally in front of an audience in Chicago, where he delivered his 2008 and 2012 victory speeches.
Watch the speech below:
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