CHICAGO (CN) – Entering to a sea of cheers and chants of “four more years,” President Barack Obama delivered his farewell speech in Chicago on Tuesday night, pushing optimism while also warning of threats to American democracy.
The event at Chicago’s McCormick Place was more like a pep rally than a speech, echoing the very first times America heard Obama talk about change and bringing the country together, with the crowd of over 4,000 erupting in applause every few minutes.
Some of the free tickets people lined up for early Saturday morning in freezing temperatures were selling for $1,000 each on Craigslist and EBay, some listed for as much as $5,000.
Touching on his legacy but focusing on his original message of unity and change, Obama said the progress he’d made in the White House was “not enough.”
Counting pulling the country out of the 2008 recession as a major accomplishment, Obama also talked up the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called ACA or Obamacare, the expansion of LGBT rights and, lest we forget, the fact that Osama bin Laden was finally found and killed under his watch.
About 17.6 million people gained health insurance after the passage of the ACA in 2010, dropping the uninsured rate by 40 percent.
After a $787 billion stimulus package, the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.7 percent, down from a high of 10 percent in 2009, and job creation is back up.
Marriage equality is now federally protected and “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, allowing those of all sexualities to serve openly in the military.
But, Obama said, he wants to see our “politics better reflect the decency of our people.” He said division among Americans is one threat to the country’s democracy.
The outgoing president said the country needs to get over the idea of the white middle class versus the “undeserving minority.”
“Those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce,” he added. And with that, “hearts must change.”
Rejecting discrimination against Muslim-Americans and blacks, Obama preached the need for equal opportunity and a recognition that such discrimination still exists.
“The effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t just vanish in the ‘60’s,” he said.
Calling out the attitudes towards America’s current wave of Hispanic immigrants, Obama said he hears the same stereotypes the Irish, Italians and Poles, all groups now considered a part of the country, faced in the past.
Under Obama, 730,000 people who came to the U.S. as children became citizens, while 2.4 million others were deported during his administration.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court – deadlocked thanks to Congress refusing to confirm the president’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland – killed the Obama administration’s offer of deportation reprieve to millions of undocumented immigrants.
Even though eight years has passed, the president still seems to really want one thing – for the country to come together.
In his final State of the Union address last January, Obama said, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”
A recent AP-NORC poll found that while 57 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Obama’s presidency, the results were deeply divided along party lines. Ninety percent of Democrats felt that way compared to only 21 percent of Republicans.
Seventy-eight percent of Democrats believe the country is better off thanks to Obama versus 11 percent of Republicans. Forty-six percent thought so overall.
Forty-four percent of people said the country is more divided after Obama’s presidency, and the most recent election may have proven them right.
Despite the current political climate and rifts among Americans, Obama still seems to have hope that they can work together.
While “democracy does not require conformity,” he said, “we rise and fall as one.”
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life,” he said. “More often than not your faith in America will be confirmed.”
“I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours,” Obama said at the close of his final speech as president. “Yes we can. Yes we did.”
The 44th president’s goodbye speech also included emotional tributes to his wife and children.
“Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the south side — for the past twenty five years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for. And you made it your own, with grace and with grit and with style and good humor,” he said.
Obama said his daughters Malia and Sasha “have become two amazing young women.”
“Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad,” he said.