Friday, January 13, 2017

Obama's Farewell Address: "Yes, we did!"

In his moving farewell address on Tuesday night, President Obama took as his primary subject "the state of our democracy."   He emphasized that democracy is not a system that works by itself;  it requires us to make it work.  And that, first of all, necessitates "a basic sense of solidarity . . . [because] we’re all in this together . . . we rise or fall as one."

To succeed, a democracy also requires a wide participation of its citizens, not just at the ballot box but in our respect for the equal value of all of us and "a sense that everyone has economic opportunity."    There are challenges that are testing our democracy, Obama said:  "A shrinking worldgrowing inequalitydemographic change and the specter of terrorism."

The president then took a few victory laps, reminding us of what had been accomplished:
*     *     *
"If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history;  if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11;  if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens;  if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. . . ."

"And the good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again. The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I’ve said and I mean it ― if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system and that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.

"But for all the real progress that we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class.

That’s the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal. While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind . . . that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics. 

"But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

"And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need;  to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now, and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible."

*     *     *
That was only the first part of his speech.   He talked about other threats to our democracy:   racial inequality and tensions as a dividing force when justice does not seem equal.   He touched on other big issues like economic inequality, climate change, the threat of terrorism, as well as the need to rebuild our democratic institutions and our participation in the democratic process.

No summary of a good speech can capture the poignance of the moment -- especially for those of us who remember what we felt when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in the same place in Chicago eight years ago.

I was filled with gratitude to this remarkable man and his family who have served us with a clarity of vision and a dignity that made us proud.   He and his family only enhanced the quality of the White House and its traditions, marking what's best in the American people.

It was very hard, watching Barack and Michelle and their daughters, not to think about the comparison of what is coming. . .


No comments:

Post a Comment