This past January Barack Obama gave his Farewell Address at a time of both dramatic and unprecedented change in our nation’s history, not seen arguably since Lyndon Johnson during the civil rights era.
I find it normal to feel the way I do about his departure, especially considering his successor. His unwavering passion and belief in this country’s people and system of government, and his collected and calm nature untarnished by personal and political scandal are visible by all those across the political spectrum.
Like many, I was introduced to Obama during the 2004 Democratic Convention. This event was my first real engagement with politics. It was a troubling time for me, my uncle, a NYC firefighter, was killed in the
September 11th attacks and left my family in despair, the economy threatened my mother’s job, our country was waging two wars, and analogous to the threat of nuclear war from previous generations, the persistent threat of terrorism was constantly invading my mind. I felt obligated to be fully engaged in politics. It was this seminal moment of watching Barack Obama that I believed this country, regardless of who won the presidency was never going to falter in the face of numerous vulnerabilities.
The 2008 presidential election was a turning point—a true battle of ideas and perspective. The election fraught with extreme diﬀerences between candidates John McCain and Barack Obama: their age, race, faith, party, views on war, plans for suturing the American economy, etc. But what took most of us by surprise at least for my generation, was the direct introduction and apparent meaning of race not only for the American public but for Black American’s as wells the campaign waged on, it was Obama’s “A More Perfect Union Speech” that introduced me to America’s continuing struggle of race and faith, which was reminiscent of the importance of John F. Kennedy’s speech on his Catholicism. Obama’s speech ushered in a wave of learning in my life to broaden my understanding of our country’s struggles that I seemed to be shielded from my entire life. In the years following this event, the subject of race would remain a careful balancing act for Obama throughout his presidency, and I sought to immerse myself in knowledge and perspective through literature.
His 2008 Victory Speech is what Barack Obama, throughout his Presidency, has embodied. A belief that America continually progresses; and that our diﬀerences are not weaknesses. Obama sought to engage young people to participate in the political system by believing that equality is possible and advancing an agenda based on intellectualism and reason. American ideals repeated in his words and deeds carried us as a nation and as a people forward during a time of economic and social upheaval. His speech highlighted that America has not always been equal for all its citizens, but we have the capacity to change and by no means is the work completed. In light of this, Obama should be held accountable for many of his successes and unfortunate failures, which were also many of his most promised positions. For example, not ending Too Big To Fail or decreasing the degree of corporation consolidation in our markets, not closing Guantanamo Bay, not ensuring universal health care and paid sick leave, not reducing wealth inequality, not resolving rampant political partisanship (use of the filibuster), not supporting whistleblowers, not ridding our country of partisan gerrymandering, and not barring unregulated campaign finance spending. Obama himself has acknowledged these failures and these limitations during his presidency and we must too. It is important to recognize that Obama is one citizen, and one citizen heading one branch of government. He alone cannot create the change he and his followers dreamed. There are real institutional limitations and political fractures within the United States which just as they limited Obama will, absent some radical reform, limit Donald Trump.
Along with millions of Americans, I will miss Barack Obama as our President. Many of us would have liked him to accomplish much more than he did. Barack Obama emboldens the reality that one citizen can galvanize a nation’s citizens to dream bigger and to reach higher, but that coalition must carry those ideals into reality. From this, Obama symbolizes not only the belief in our idealistic values but the persistent audacious fight that is necessary for them as well.
UConn JD Candidate 2019
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