President Obama’s final address to the American people went exactly as expected.
The outgoing commander in chief has always had a talent for giving speeches. In this, his last hurrah, he coupled soaring rhetoric about “change” with standard politician’s bromides about America’s greatness and bright future.
After eight years of very similar orations, this latest version had the tedious feel of a class review before the final exam.
It was a formality for all but the most devoted Obama supporters. Even the President himself quipped that he planned to make it “a little shorter” than other speeches.
The worst failing of the Obama presidency, as judged by his own promise to unite the nation, has been his divisiveness. In this speech, he even noted his role in the current climate of hyper-partisanship as “one of the few regrets” of his tenure. For a man much more prone to tout his greatness than admit a shortcoming, this brief admission spoke volumes.
Despite this fleeting moment of self-reflection, on policy matters, he maintained a haughty and dismissive air towards those with whom he disagrees. Instead of showing magnanimity to the other side of the political aisle, Obama chose to lecture and even condescend.
His comments on climate change in particular betrayed a deep frustration with anyone who questions that carbon emissions will destroy the planet unless drastic action is taken. Mocking those who disagree with him on climate change is petty and should be beneath the President.
To be sure, not all of the speech was a total waste of time. Kind words about American workers, ingenuity, and prosperity are always nice to hear from our nation’s leader, even in the twilight of his term. But his most powerful moment by far came towards the end, when Obama showed the depth of his affection for his family. Even for Obama’s most stalwart critics, the sight of the commander in chief tearing up on stage, extending heartfelt thanks and love to his wife and adoring children created a scene that transcended politics.
It’s a shame the same couldn’t be said for Obama’s tenure as President. He was an ideologue through and through, who never made a single meaningful gesture to the other side in eight years of his administration.
Obama was certainly a historic figure, and the country will rightly continue to celebrate the milestone of electing our first black President (twice). But he leaves behind a government that is less trusted by the American people than when he took office, two political parties that view their agendas as zero-sum, and a legacy of pure ideological zealotry.
President Obama is fortunate that he was able to give his version of events, on the record, one last time, before Republicans take power. Many of his major policy decisions are likely to be undone, and the pendulum of partisan warfare will soon swing against his most important initiatives.
The Democrats indeed face a day of reckoning, but Obama will be long gone by the time it comes.