In an urgent and defining speech today, former President Barack Obama set himself up as a heavyweight counterpoint on the campaign trail to President Donald Trump — as both men make plans to vigorously support their party’s candidates in the final two months of the midterm elections.
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Obama delivered his message at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus, and implored students to vote, saying that a look at recent headlines shows that “this moment is different.”
“As a fellow citizen, not as a former president, but as a fellow citizen I am here to deliver a simple message. You need to vote because our democracy depends on it,” Obama said.
“Now, some of you may think I’m exaggerating when I say this November’s elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime,” he told the crowd. “I know politicians say that all the time. I have been guilty of saying it a few times, particularly when I was on the ballot.”
“But just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”
[J]ust a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.
Obama was on hand to receive an award for ethics in government from the University of Illinois, as he sets out to begin campaigning for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.
The former president assailed what he described as the denigration of American ideals, and urged Americans to reject the forces that “keep us divided and keep us angry.”
“Our ideals that say we have a collective responsibility to care for the sick and the infirm,” he said. “And we have a responsibility to conserve the amazing bounty, the natural resources of this country, and of this planet for future generations.
“Each time we have gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back. The status quo pushes back.”
Obama took the rare step of calling out Trump by name, saying that the threat to democracy ultimately “isn’t from Trump or Republicans, but from indifference or cynicism that voting doesn’t make a difference.”
“If you thought elections don’t matter I hope these last two years have corrected that impression,” he said, adding his refrain of “don’t put your head in the sand. Don’t boo, vote.”
Obama said that it should not be a Democratic or a Republican issue and that regardless of views, “you should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.”
Obama went on to call out the “politics of fear and resentment” that he said has consumed Republicans.
You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments. It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He just capitalizes on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.
He said that both parties have engaged in this kind of politics in the past but that “over the past few decades the politics of divines and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party.”
Obama asserted that the Republicans have abandoned its principles of fiscal conservatism, “cozying up to the former head of the KGB,” and made America the only country to pull out of a global climate agreement.
“They made it so that the only nation on Earth to pull out of the global climate agreement, it’s not North Korea, it’s not Syria, it’s not Russia or Saudi Arabia, it’s us.
“The only country, there are a lot of countries in the world. We’re the only ones.”
Obama said in a “healthy Democracy” there are checks and balances against this inconsistency but that the country has lost that under the current leadership.
As a fellow citizen, not as a former president, but as a fellow citizen I am here to deliver a simple message. You need to vote because our democracy depends on it.
In a rare comment on a specific news story Obama also referenced an anonymous op-ed by a “senior administration official” calling themselves the resistance within the administration.
“They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff coming out of this WH and then saying don’t worry we’re preventing the other 10 percent,” Obama said.
But he said the good news is the midterms are just two months away.
“In two months we have the chance to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics,” he said.
Earlier this week Obama announced that he would campaign for candidates in California and Ohio in the coming weeks. Michelle Obama is also scheduled to hold several rallies encouraging Democrats and young people to vote.
Obama is the 28th person to receive the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government, which has also been given to the late Sen. John McCain, civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis and Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens. The award is named for Senator Paul H. Douglas, who represented Illinois from 1949 to 1967, according to the school’s website.