By State Representative, Leon D. Young
President Barack Obama gave his farewell address last week before an enthusiastic crowd estimated more than 20,000 well-wishers, in his beloved hometown of Chicago.
It was truly a remarkable speech in which Mr. Obama reprised two of his signature political themes: Hope and Change – one last time.
During his remarks, the president spoke passionately about the state of our democracy. Mr. Obama asserted: “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”
The second point that the president stressed was this: “There’s a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”
Mr. Obama subsequently focused on a third threat to our democracy. “Politics is a battle of ideas; during a healthy debate, we’ll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.”
This brings us to the president’s final point – “our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.
When voting, rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote. When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service.
When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.”
Noticeably absent from this riveting address was the president’s youngest daughter, Sasha Obama. Speculation immediately arose as to her whereabouts: Was she ill or had she suffered some other personal mishap? It was later confirmed that Sasha had elected to remain in Washington, to take an important final exam with her classmates.
In retrospect, the president spoke eloquently about several challenges that have the potential to undermine our democracy. However, of all the profound things that Mr. Obama mentioned, I was most impressed about something that he didn’t discuss.
It goes without saying that Sasha Obama could have easily been excused from her exam the following morning and made the trip to Chicago. But, Sasha and her parents opted not to do so.
In my view, this decision clearly demonstrates the high importance (and regard) the Obamas place on getting an education; and the personal sacrifices that one is called upon to make in preparing oneself for the future.
In hindsight, this was one last teachable moment from the president and the First Lady. A lesson, this important, should never go unnoticed. And we, as parents, should try to emulate this sterling example of parenting.