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Obama’s farewell: a climate of change, but little hope

Obama’s farewell: a climate of change, but little hope

'Yes, we can' he promised Americans. As he said farewell tonight, Barack Obama reflected on the past eight years - and the future

Obama’s farewell: a climate of change, but little hope

After eight years as President of the United States, Barack Obama has made his farewell address as leader.

He returned to his home town of Chicago to give a final farewell address to the nation.

The outgoing President spoke at the McCormick place Convention Centre near the shore of Lake Michigan to a much smaller crowd than the 240,000 people who gathered in the city for his historic victory speech in 2008.

He thanked thousands of supporters and reaffirmed his belief in the power of change, hearkening back to the “hope and change” message of his first campaign for president in 2008.

“America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started,” said Obama, listing the achievements of his administration, including same-sex marriage, the Iran nuclear deal and killing Osama bin Laden.

The crowd started booing when Obama referred to next week’s inauguration of Donald Trump. He told them to stop and noted the importance of “the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next.”

He was interrupted by chants of “Four more years!”.

Obama responded: “I can’t do that.”

In the aftermath of the election, Obama acknowledged that the nation’s progress has been “uneven”.

He said that for “every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back”.

But the outgoing President – who conspicuously mentioned his successor by name only once in his hour-long speech – said the country is striving for “forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some”.

Obama said that protecting the nation’s way of life is the job of citizens as well as the military.

He said that “democracy can buckle when we give in to fear”.

“If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself,” he said.

“Show up. Dive in. Stay at it. Sometimes you will win. Sometimes you will lose.”

Obama also referred to Trump’s campaign calls for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the United States.

The outgoing President said he rejects discrimination against Muslim Americans, and drew cheers for saying they are “just as patriotic as we are”.

First lady Michelle Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill Biden, and many current and former White House staff members and campaign workers attended the speech.

During the speech, Obama took a moment to thank his wife and his daughters Malia (who was not present) and Sasha for sacrificing for his political dreams.

He noted that his partner for the past 25 years took on a role she did not want and made it her own with “grace and grit and style and good humour”.

“A new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model,” he said.

“So you have made me proud and you have made the country proud.”

He said choosing Biden to be his Vice President was the first and best choice he made.

Mr Obama said Biden — “the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favourite son” — has not only been a great Vice President during the past eight years, but he also was an unexpected gift.

The outgoing President said that in Mr Biden, he gained a brother.

“We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our lives,” he said.

Even the final trip on the presidential aircraft was a moment tinged with wistfulness. It was Obama’s 445th trip on Air Force One, a perk he has said he will miss when he leaves office.

“The President is not one to be overly sentimental, but given the circumstances, I think it would be unrealistic to expect anybody to not feel some nostalgia for this moment,” his spokesman, Josh Earnest told reporters travelling with Obama.

Obama will vacate the White House in 10 days. He plans to remain in Washington for the next two years while his younger daughter, Sasha, finishes high school.

He has indicated he wants to give Trump the same space that George W Bush gave him after leaving office by not maintaining a high public profile.

In the days leading up to the address, crowds braved the cold, lining up at McCormick Place in the early hours of the morning in the hope of getting their hands of a ticket to the historic address.

 

Obama’s speech is the final act of a months-long farewell tour, manifested in extended magazine interviews, lengthy television sit-downs, and the White House’s own efforts to document the President’s waning administration.

Through it all, Obama has sought to highlight the achievements of his presidency using statistics showing the country better off now than eight years ago. He’s offered a rational view of Trump’s election and rarely lets on to any apprehension about his future as an ex-president.

Michelle Obama offered a more candid view in a scaled-back version of her own farewell. She sat for an hour-long interview with Oprah Winfrey, frankly admitting that Democrats were now “feeling what not having hope feels like.”

And she became emotional during her final set of formal remarks at the White House on Friday, her voice quaking and eyes welling with tears as she told a crowd of educators: “I hope I made you proud.”

 

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