Political News

'Yes we did' _ Obama bids farewell in nostalgic last speech

Posted January 11

— President Barack Obama bid farewell to the nation Tuesday in an emotional speech that sought to comfort a country on edge over rapid economic changes, persistent security threats and the election of Donald Trump.

Forceful at times and tearful at others, Obama's valedictory speech in his hometown of Chicago was a public meditation on the many trials the U.S. faces as Obama takes his exit. For the challenges that are new, Obama offered his vision for how to surmount them, and for the persistent problems he was unable to overcome, he offered optimism that others, eventually, will.

"Yes, our progress has been uneven," Obama told a crowd of some 18,000. "The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back."

Yet Obama argued his faith in America had only been strengthened by what he's witnessed the past eight years, and he declared: "The future should be ours."

Brushing away tears with a handkerchief, Obama paid tribute to the sacrifices made by his wife — and by his daughters, who were young girls when they entered the big white home on Pennsylvania Avenue and leave as young women. He praised first lady Michelle Obama for taking on her role "with grace and grit and style and good humor" and for making the White House "a place that belongs to everybody."

Soon Obama and his family will exit the national stage, to be replaced by Trump, a man Obama had stridently argued poses a dire threat to the nation's future. His near-apocalyptic warnings throughout the campaign have cast a continuing shadow over his post-election efforts to reassure Americans anxious about the future.

Indeed, much of what Obama accomplished during his two terms — from health care overhaul and environmental regulations to his nuclear deal with Iran — could potentially be upended by Trump. So even as Obama seeks to define what his presidency meant for America, his legacy remains in question.

Even as Obama said farewell — in a televised speech of just under an hour — the anxiety felt by many Americans about the future was palpable, and not only in the Chicago convention center where he stood in front of a giant presidential seal. The political world was reeling from new revelations about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about Trump.

Obama made only passing reference to the next president. When he noted he would soon be replaced by the Republican, his crowd began to boo.

"No, no, no, no, no," Obama said. One of the nation's great strengths, he said, "is the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next."

Earlier, as the crowd of thousands chanted, "Four more years," he simply smiled and said, "I can't do that."

Still, Obama offered what seemed like a point-by-point rebuttal of Trump's vision for America.

He pushed back on the isolationist sentiments inherent in Trump's trade policies. He decried discrimination against Muslim Americans and lamented politicians who question climate change. And he warned about the pernicious threat to U.S. democracy posed by purposely deceptive fake "news" and a growing tendency of Americans to listen only to information that confirms what they already believe.

Get out of your "bubbles," said the politician who rose to a prominence with a message of unity, challenging divisions of red states and blue states. Obama also revived a call to activism that marked his first presidential campaign, telling Americans to stay engaged in politics.

"If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the internet," Obama said pointedly, "try to talk with one in real life. "

With Democrats still straining to make sense of their devastating election losses, Obama tried to offer a path forward. He called for empathy for the struggles of all Americans — from minorities, refugees and transgender people to middle-aged white men whose sense of economic security has been upended in recent years.

Paying tribute to his place as America's first black president, Obama acknowledged there were hopes after his 2008 election for a post-racial America.

"Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic," Obama said, though he insisted race relations are better now than a few decades ago.

The former community organizer closed out his speech by reviving his campaign chant, "Yes we can." To that, he added for the first time, "Yes we did."

He staunchly defended the power of activists to make a difference — the driving factor behind Obama's optimism in the face of so much anxiety, he said. Though the coalition of young Americans and minorities who twice got Obama elected wasn't enough to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton to replace him, Obama suggested their day was still ahead.

"You'll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands," he said.

Steeped in nostalgia, Obama's return to Chicago was less a triumphant homecoming than a bittersweet reunion bringing together loyalists and staffers, many of whom have long since left Obama's service, moved on to new careers and started families. They came from across the country — some on Air Force One, others on their own — to be present for the last major moment of Obama's presidency.

Unexpectedly absent was Obama's younger daughter, Sasha, who had been expected to join sister Malia at the speech. The White House said Sasha stayed in Washington due to a school exam Wednesday morning.

After returning to Washington, he will have less than two weeks before he accompanies Trump in the presidential limousine to the Capitol for the new president's swearing-in. After nearly a decade in the spotlight, Obama will become a private citizen, an elder statesman at 55. He plans to take some time off, write a book — and immerse himself in a Democratic redistricting campaign.


Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Calvin Woodward in Washington contributed to this report.


Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP and Darlene Superville at http://twitter.com/dsupervilleap


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  • Alfred Barnes Jan 12, 7:51 p.m.
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    Maybe you're missing the point, the Obama administration is as or more corrupt than any preceding it, and as far as genocide is concerned, dislocation is not genocide, although that is exactly what muslims and jews are doing to each other and christians in the ME. For the record I support neither can you say the same? I agree the treatment of Native Americans is appalling and the very reason why one cannot trust our federal government. As the Native American or Greece or Guatemalans go, so do we all.

  • Chris Cole Jan 12, 8:42 a.m.
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    The fact that you are ignoring the acts of genocide and mass corruption to justify your hatred of Obama is absolutely appalling.

  • Alfred Barnes Jan 12, 4:19 a.m.
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    BHO was only the last of a progressively worse line of administrations beginning with Reagan, and culminating with the GFC of 2008. Obama did nothing to correct the TBTF, and the national debt doubled. By all measures, we're worse off than we were after 8 years of BHO. Can you say that about Jackson, who kicked the bankers out, or Nixon, who got us out of Vietnam?

  • Alfred Barnes Jan 12, 4:11 a.m.
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    Wow, there was no claim he was a Muslim, just sympathetic to their cause. How is it progressives can reconcile everything they say they believe and stand for, with a religion of intolerance like Islam?

    At a minimum, Trump is going to stop illegal immigration and wholesale immigration of muslims en masse. I have no issue with allowing legitimate refugees to locate here, provided they respect our laws, but why exclude christians? They're being being persecuted far worse than any other group of people in muslim countries.

  • Jim Halbert Jan 11, 12:35 p.m.
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    and the stupid conspiracies about him will never die. you know what it means to believe in a conspiracy? to accept something as fact with no concrete evidence. if you're sitting on the bombshell that proves Obama is muslim, please share. Otherwise, get your head out of your rear end and do the decent thing and admit you were wrong for once in your life. Obama didn't convert our country to Sharia law, Obama didn't take our guns, Obama didn't declare martial law and declare himself king to stay in power. Along with being a foreign born muslim these are conspiracy theories that have perpetuated within right wing circles for 8 years. 8 years later and you were all wrong on every single thing. How you and others like you still believe you have a leg to stand on in any political debate and also praise Trump like he's the second coming is beyond me.

  • Greg Smith Jan 11, 12:23 p.m.
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    Yes We Did....
    1)Divide the Country
    2)Improved Race Relations
    3)Helped make it possible for Trump to become President
    4)Took a lot of vacations

  • Chris Cole Jan 11, 11:01 a.m.
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    So... Jackson with the Trail of Tears and Nixon with Watergate don't trump Obama?

  • Gerald Elliott Jan 11, 10:32 a.m.
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    The worst ever. No one is a close second.

  • Alfred Barnes Jan 11, 9:57 a.m.
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    Actually, it is. You said his administration isn't racist. I gave you one example, the DOJ. But, I don't want to focus on race. Let's just say, corrupt. The IRS, Iran, Benghazi, you name it.

    Trumps greatest challenge will be domestic and within his own administration.

    Let's forget BHO, except to succinctly state he was the worst in a line of progressively worse adminstrations, beginning with Reagan. Carter was the last best president this country has ever had, a christian peanut farmer from Georgia. Trump has the opportunity to do what Carter tried and failed to do, reign in the bureaucracy in DC.

    I won't be trolled into discussing BHO, for any reason, except to list him last in a long list of failed administrations. The sooner forgotten, the better.

  • Beth King Jan 11, 9:19 a.m.
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    Just was not a good president...Sorry but it's true period!!