Chicago: US President Barack Obama used his farewell speech in his home town on Tuesday to defend his imperiled legacy and to press a broad, optimistic vision for the country that seems more divided than ever.
“Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody,” he said. “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.”
Mr Obama has sought to rise above the rancorous politics of the past few months and the stunning presidential election that resulted in the defeat of his chosen successor and a Republican sweep of Congress. When chants of “Four more years” erupted from the crowd, he responded: “We can’t do that.”
He celebrated the impending inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president: “In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next,” Mr Obama said.
“I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.”
Mr Obama’s remarks touched only marginally on his record. He touted the end of the Great Recession and other economic gains, foreign policy achievements such as restoring diplomatic ties to Cuba and a breakthrough with Iran to stall its nuclear program, as well as marriage equality in the US and the expansion of access to healthcare for 20 million Americans who had been uninsured.
But he said those achievements were not his alone.
“You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started,” he said.