Full circle: Dispatches from President Obama’s farewell address

We all feel that way, sweetie

I and several thousand other people are here early in McCormick Center, waiting for President Obama. We’re listening the warm-up act of Eddie Vedder and the Chicago Children’s Choir, followed by BJ the Chicago Kid with the national anthem. They all rocked the house—though in fairness it wasn’t the toughest crowd I’ve ever seen….

I am sitting in the press pen, sneaking into a spot nominally reserved for NBC News. I’m about 25 feet from Anderson Cooper. A gentleman, Mr. Cooper graciously let me take his picture. At least he would have, had I not nervously screwed up my fancy camera. He has a better seat. Still, I’m here with my White House press pass, my three cameras, a laptop. A tripod I don’t have permission to set up. I’ve hit the big time.

This is a poignant moment, the end of a sweet journey for many here. My own journey began 9 ½ years ago, when a friend invited me to a small Chicago party on behalf of Senator Barack Obama’s unlikely presidential campaign…. A man I hadn’t heard of, David Plouffe, was the headliner of this small party. He was there to talk campaign strategy. He got hard questions from a skeptical small crowd. Senator Obama was thirty points down in the polls. He was way behind in money. and in name recognition. He was a black guy with a…well you know the list…

I don’t for a moment believe President Obama has been the perfect president or the perfect steward of the Democratic Party. He was still very good. With virtually zero Republican help, his policies pulled our nation out of the deepest recession in generations. He rescued the auto industry. He brought health insurance to twenty million people. His soldiers killed bin Laden. He avoided war with Iran. He did many less noticeable things, too, such as building a Justice Department we can be proud of for its work on civil rights and disability.

He is one of the most worthy men ever to assume the presidency. The Obamas represent our country with such grace, humanity, and integrity. The contrast between President Obama and the grifting demagogue who will replace him defies belief.

President Obama has been the best and the classiest President of my lifetime. I’ve never regretted for one second the thousands of hours I’ve spent supporting his efforts.

Like millions of others, I just ache to see him go.

More here, from my piece at the Huffington Post.

All pictures by Harold Pollack


Hypothesis: Cable TV appearance standards differ by gender.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

5 thoughts on “Full circle: Dispatches from President Obama’s farewell address”

  1. Really commenting on the HuffPo article.

    No dissent on the outstanding personal qualities of Barack Obama the man and of his wife Michelle. It's rare for a country to strike so lucky in a chief executive. It's more common in ceremonial heads of state: Mary Robinson, Joachim Gauck, Elizabeth Windsor.

    Of the political legacy, how much will survive?
    - Civil rights and racial equality: a lot of downside to come, but the huge symbolic value of a black famiiy worthily occupying a House built by whites with the labour of slaves will endure. The racial wage and employment gap has narrowed, and I doubt it will widen again.
    - Climate and energy: the gains are irreversible. Domestically, Trump cannot turn back the clock on coal, ad the cost trajectory of wind, solar and batteries will keep the transition largely on track. Internationally, the triumph of the Paris Agreement will endure. The USA can be the wooden leg on the centipede, 99-clunk.
    - The economy: a good job in the circumstances. Trump may create another Bush train-wreck, who knows.
    - Health: of all the achievements, this is by far the most vulnerable. It would be rational for the GOP to backtrack to a symbolic overhaul of the ACA, but I fear they are committed to their own propaganda and will use the wrecking ball - and own the consequences.
    - World order: more crossed fingers. Again, Trump will own the messes, as the contrast with Obama's general deftness gets stronger in the rear-view mirror..

    1. A global nuclear war will wipe it all out in an instant, and nobody will care that it ever happened.

      1. This has been true for almost all my 70-year lifetime. Trump raises the odds again. We have to soldier on on the assumption it won't happen.
        Trump's nominations are medium reassuring on this score. Flynn is nuts, but Mattis, Tillerson and Coats are at least rational men.

  2. i've lived through the terms of 10 presidents and a forced-birth fanatic might say through the terms of 11 since i was in utero during the final days of the eisenhower administration. i have read extensively the history of this country and its presidents and their policies for the entire history of the country with an emphasis on the u.s. civil war and reconstruction and the post wwii period. i have been a rational, thoughtful consumer of news and primary documents of the presidents of my lifetime starting 43 years ago when i was 12.

    of all the presidents of my lifetime, obama ranks as the very best of the entire bunch. despite his flaws, some of which are the flaws of our entire government which were baked into the cake well before he was elected senator from illinois or even born, he is the best president i have personally experienced. if there is still a united states in 50 years i believe he will be ranked among the five or six best presidents in the history of the country
    i deeply regret his departure from office and would do so even if he were being succeeded by clinton, or sanders, or webb, or chafee, or o'malley. i die a little inside that he is being succeeded by such a monstrous little man that is to mislead the country for the next four to eight years. i deeply hope that he will be less horrific than i envision but i find i cannot count on being able to recognize my country by the end of his tenure however long that is.
    my passport is up-to-date and i can take my retirement after one more year of teaching if it becomes necessary to emigrate. i plan to protest and lobby, i plan to stand with the underserved and repressed and to use every ounce of my white, male privilege to get as much access as i can muster to fight for those who are despised and abused and ignored in the america to come.

    i bid a sad goodbye to a man who has served us well and is going out with style and grace.

  3. Well said, CMN.

    Obama accomplished a great deal in the face of bitter and irrational opposition.

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