Outgoing President Barack Obama gave his farewell speech in Chicago on Tuesday to much fanfare and celebration. He, once again, proved that he is an expert orator able to pique emotions through passionate delivery. He made a lot of mention of the change he first ran on in 2008, but history will show that he brought little change, too much compromise and more of the same hawkish policies that President George W. Bush advanced.
Obama’s farewell speech should have been him apologizing for not doing enough to help Americans in tough times. He should have announced he was giving back his Nobel Peace Prize for dropping more than 26,000 bombs on seven countries in his last year in office alone. His speech should have included an apology for not fighting for a single payer health care system while he had a majority of Democrats in Congress instead of caving to GOP pressure to adopt a plan created by Republican think tank the Heritage Foundation. The Affordable Care Act, A.K.A. Obamacare, actually made access to health care more expensive for some middle-class Americans.
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But apologize he did not. Instead, his farewell speech painted a rosy picture of “walking in thy enemy’s shoes” to gain perspective of the opposition. And again, he took credit for killing bin Laden, whose body was thrown into the sea instead of being taken back to the United States for identification purposes.
The most ironic part of Obama’s farewell speech is the part where he, a Constitutional expert, told the audience that terrorists “cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight.” Yet, President Obama has violated our Constitution multiple times throughout his presidency.
In 2011, he killed a 16-year-old American boy named Abdulrahman al-Awlaki via drone strike without due process or benefit of a trial. In fact, the teenager wasn’t even on any official kill list. According to the Atlantic, when asked how the Obama administration could justify such a killing, then press secretary Robert Gibbs callously blamed the young man’s father, who was also an American citizen killed without due process in a targeted drone strike two weeks earlier.
“I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
And Obama’s farewell speech didn’t mention his penchant for drone strikes. In April 2015, the New York Times published a report in which the administrated admitted that there are times when innocent civilian non-combatants die in drone strikes, and the government has made it exceedingly difficult to obtain information on specific strikes, despite Obama’s original vow for a more transparent government. Experts claim the number of civilian deaths the Obama administration has owned up to — 116 — is at least six times lower than the true number. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts the actual number of non-combatants killed via drone strikes between 380 and 801 based on reports from local and international journalists.
Obama’s farewell speech ignored the nine cases his administration has prosecuted against whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, who risked her freedom and life to send damning videos of questionable airstrikes and hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks. She was ultimately court-martialed and sent to military prison for 35 years. President Obama has declined to pardon Manning.
He reminded his audience of how much he values human rights and freedom of speech, yet the last eight years have seen him expand surveillance programs on private civilians. Georgetown University law professor Laura Donohue characterized the President’s expanded surveillance program as legal, but unconstitutional in an essay for the Washington Post.
And despite his rhetoric of protecting long-time undocumented residents from deportation, Foreign Policy magazine observes that Obama actually increased deportations in vast numbers, detained entire families seeking asylum indefinitely, and deported unaccompanied children back to war-torn nations like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. In fact, according to ABC News, Obama has deported more people than any other president, at 2.5 million between 2009 and 2015.
Speaking of Honduras, Obama’s farewell speech neatly ignored the fact that his administration was responsible for participating in and supporting the military coup of democratically elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. According to Salon, both Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the coup and “played a uniquely hands-on role” in the act. The coup was carried out, it seems, because Zelaya had challenged the interests of powerful Western corporations.
And those unaccompanied minors and mothers with children the President’s administration held indefinitely? His farewell speech ignores the reason why those children came here in the first place, because of violent, repressive regime of President Juan Orlando Herandez, where Honduran activists like Berta Caceres are killed with impunity.
President Obama’s critics aren’t just those who adhere to a right-wing philosophy. His critics also hail from the left, from Berniecrats and Greens, independents and Libertarians. One of Obama’s sharpest critics, progressive activist and Harvard professor Dr. Cornel West, sees the President as a man who wasted opportunities to bring about real change, and who instead bowed to the interests of Wall Street. In a recent piece for the Guardian, West lays out his disappointment with President Obama.
“A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his ‘smart’ neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009. Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you … And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail.”
West also touched on another controversial topic: Israel and Palestine. With the United State’s financial support, Israel killed at least 2,000 Palestinians in just 50 days.
“Obama said not a mumbling word about the dead Palestinian children but he did call Baltimore black youth ‘criminals and thugs.'”
President Obama’s farewell speech didn’t address a series of squandered opportunities to affect real change in people’s lives. Instead, his farewell adress offered more feel-good platitudes, a speech with more empty talk about hope and change. It was a farewell speech meant to make us forget eight years of wasted opportunities to truly change our lives for the better. Instead, he leaves office with the burden of knowing he could have done better but chose the route of least resistance.
[Featured Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais /AP Images]