September 10, 2018
Former President Barack Obama has delivered two major speeches since the start of September—one at Senator John McCain’s funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on September 1 and another at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on September 7—a sure sign that the crucial midterm elections are approaching.
The occasion for the latest speech was the presentation to the 44th president of the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government by the university in acknowledgement of his belief in the principles of equality and decency over division.
I’m here today,” he said on Friday, “because this is one of those pivotal moments when every one of us as citizens of the United States need to determine just who we are, what it is that we stand for. As a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president, I’m here to deliver a simple message, which is that you need to vote, because our democracy depends on it.”
Obama characterized the upcoming election as the most significant in American history. “Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different,” he noted. “The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”
And, according to a September 7 report by Politico, for the first time since leaving office, he said Trump’s name. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom [of our tribal divisions], not the cause,” Obama said, to applause. “He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.”
He laid a great deal of the blame for the country’s climate of contention on U.S. legislators. “It’s not just about Trump, he said. It’s about Republicans “who know better in Congress … bending over backwards to shield” Trump. They’re hypocrites, he said, and they’re just as dangerous to America. At times mocking them and at times laying into them, Obama said they’ve abandoned all that they’re supposed to stand for as Republicans, and as citizens of this country, Politico reported.
“None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channeling Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I don’t think, when he formed the Republican Party. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says our protection of our power is all that matters,” Obama said.
What’s more, Obama said, no American should feel good about the idea, expressed in the anonymous New York Times op-ed on September 6, that there are adults in the room managing Trump.
“That is not a check. That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work. These people aren’t elected,” he said. “They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90% of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House, and saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10%.’”
He ended by imploring the public to do the right thing: “Even if you don’t agree with me or Democrats on policy, even if you agree with more libertarian economic views, even if you are an evangelical and the position on social issues is a bridge too far,” Obama said. “I’m here to tell you that you should still be concerned and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government. It should not be Democratic or Republican. It should not be partisan to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.”
“We are Americans,” Obama said.
At press time, Trump’s favorability polls remained stable. Gallup reported that 41% of Americans approved of the president’s job performance and 53% disapproved.
Research contact: @IsaacDovere