President Barack Obama meets with college students, former college students, and parents for lunch at Magnolia’s during the college affordability bus tour in Rochester, New York, Aug. 22, 2013. from A seat at the President’s table three years later
A graduate of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, a philosophy professor at Finger Lakes Community College and the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International, George Payne has in the past critiqued President Obama’s rhetoric.
In When Obama invokes Martin Luther King , George questioned Obama’s summoning of Martin Luther King Jr. in Obama’s State of the Union Address. George felt King’s name and legacy should not be in invoked to “endorse a worldview that advocates justified warfare.”
That said, George found Obama’s farewell address to be powerful and persuasive.
Obama’s Farewell Warning is a Challenge to All Citizens
The meat of President Obama’s farewell address highlighted his remarkable achievements with both class and dignity. He pointed out that poverty is falling, the wealthy are paying more taxes, unemployment is at record lows, health care is more affordable, renewable energy has doubled, Muslim prejudice has decreased, relations with the Cuban people have been opened up, the criminal justice system has been reformed, LGBTQ rights have been codified, and naked partisanship has been met with common sense and practical reason.
Yet, none of these accomplishments will endure if ordinary American citizens relinquish their sacred duty to deliver on the promise of our forefathers and foremothers. The promise is that all people are created equal with certain inalienable rights. The promise is that we can all be in this together if we love and respect each other. The promise is that democracy can be used as an instrument to help persons seek happiness. This is the beating heart of government, and no other message resounded more dramatically in McCormick Place than that.
For two terms President Obama taught us to “embrace all and not just some.” The President taught us to be vigilant but not afraid. With supreme grace and refined humility, the world’s most admired leader taught us that we must preserve our way of government with “jealous anxiety.” If people do not “show up, dive in, and keep at it,” then our government will erode from within. If people do not show up to vote we will elect individuals who may not have our country’s best interest in mind. If people do not participate in local school boards, city and state elections, and be part of political action committees and parties, there will be no one left to save our republic. Without civic participation, we are at the mercy of plutocrats, international entities, and religious fanatics.
Like the farewell speech itself, Obama’s America strove for a higher purpose. No more black and white. America represents every pigment conceivable. No more rich or poor. America is not a country for aristocrats and beggars. No more insiders and outsiders. America is a dream that belongs to anyone who seeks a better life. No more red states and blue states. This is one nation under Nature’s God. No more right and wrong. We are a nation of values which are held together by the intolerance of tyranny and the promulgation of free thought. The same goals are shared by all citizens: a high quality education, personal safety, jobs, and faith in the future.
In the words of the president, “laws must change but so must hearts and minds. Each of us must be Atticus Finch. We must climb into other people’s shoes and walk around a bit… We must not retreat into our bubbles and social enclaves.” In general, the president warned all of us that we must avoid retreating from the challenge of freedom. That is the only way to be truly free.