Conceding disappointments during his presidency yet offering vigorous encouragement for the nation’s future, Barack Obama issued an emotional defense Tuesday night of his vision to Americans facing a moment of anxiety and a dramatic change in leadership. Obama’s valedictory speech in his hometown of Chicago was a public meditation on the trials and triumphs, promises kept and promises broken that made up his eight years in the White House. Arguing his faith in America had been confirmed, Obama said he ends his tenure inspired by America’s “boundless capacity” for reinvention, and he declared: “The future should be ours.”
His delivery was forceful for most of his speech, but by the end he was wiping away tears as the crowd embraced him one last time.
Reflecting on the corrosive recent political campaign, he said, “That potential will be realized only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”
He made no mention of Republican Donald Trump, who will replace him in just 10 days. But when he noted the imminence of that change and the crowd began booing, he responded, “No, no, no, no, no.” 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.”
Soon Obama and his family will exit the national stage, to be replaced by Trump.
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