Op/Ed By George Payne
Every farewell address has a theme.
Washington warned of intrusion by foreign governments. Eisenhower talked about the military industrial complex. Reagan championed American exceptionalism. Clinton called for a more inclusive nation, and Bush called on the West to stay resolved in the face of global terrorism.
The farewell speech of President Barack Obama in front of 20,000 loyal supporters in Chicago was both a defense of his economic and cultural legacy, as well as a treatise on the responsibilities of citizenship.
As the president forcefully stated in more ways than one: “Our democracy is threatened when we take it for granted.”
The meat of the speech focused on the president’s remarkable achievements with both class and dignity.
He pointed out that poverty is falling, the wealthier are paying more taxes, unemployment is at record lows, health care is more affordable, renewable energy has been doubled, Muslim discrimination has decreased, relations with the Cuban people have been opened up, the criminal justice system as been reformed, transgender and LGBTQ rights have been enshrined, and naked partisanship has been met with common sense, and practical reason.
Yet, none of these accomplishments will endure if ordinary American citizens relinquish their sacred duty to uphold the principles of the Constitution, by delivering on the promise of our forefathers and foremothers.
The promise is that all people are created equal, with certain inalienable rights.
The promise is that we can all be in this together, if we love and respect each other.
The promise is that democracy can be used as an instrument to help people pursue happiness.
This is the beating heart of government, and no other message resounded more dramatically in McCormick Place than that.
Like the president’s farewell speech itself, Obama’s America strove for a higher purpose.
No more black and white. America represents every pigment conceivable. No more rich or poor. America is not a country for aristocrats and extremists. No more insiders and outsiders. America is a dream that belongs to anyone who seeks a better life for themselves, and their family. No more red states and blue states. This is one nation, under God. No more right and wrong. We are a nation of values which are held together by the intolerance of tyranny, and the promulgation of free thought.
The same goals are shared by all citizens: a high-quality education, personal safety, jobs, and faith in the future.
For eight years, President Obama taught us to “embrace all and not just some.”
The President taught us to be vigilant but not afraid.
And, with supreme grace and refined humility, the world’s most admired leader taught us that we must preserve our way of government with “jealous anxiety.”
If people do not “show up, dive in, and keep at it,” then our government will erode from within. If people do not show up to vote, we will elect individuals who do not have our country’s best interest in mind. If people do not participate in local school boards, city and state elections, and be part of political action committees and parties, there is no one to save our republic.
We are at the mercy of plutocrats, foreign entities, and religious fanatics.
As President Obama said, ” laws must change but so must hearts and minds. Each of us must be Atticus Finch. We must climb into other people’s shoes and walk around a bit… We must not retreat into our bubbles and social enclaves.” In general, the president warned all of us that we must avoid retreating from the challenge of freedom.
That is the only way to be truly free.
Thank you Mr. President.