Sunday, January 22, 2017

Post-mortem of the Obama presidency

What other recent-days' presidents' legacies have been

Before delving into the data that will ultimately define for the ages what President Obama will be remembered for, let's have a look at a few of the recent presidents and try to see what their legacies have been, without too much digging:
  • (1981-1989) Free-trade, the fall of soviet block putting an end to the cold-war, and the revival of the American Dream, are my take on Ronald Reagan's legacy
  • (1989-1993) George H. W. Bush; A continuity president, and the Gulf War 
  • (1993-2001) Bill Clinton; Fixed the U.S. economy for a generation, a widely loved president whose legacy was tarnished by an unfortunate impeachment
  • (2001-2009) Wars, the great recession, 9/11, and rise of Islamism are most likely what Bush Jr will be remembered for
Now, what are the salient points of the Obama years, likely to be remembered...

The U.S. President is never alone...

First, it is important to understand that while the president has a lot of power, without support from Congress, his policies do not get passed into laws. The chart below is a good reference to understand the Congress' power to veto an agenda during the past 150 years.

The economy; bringing America out of the great recession

Real GDP recovery
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Good management of the debt in spite of the economic conditions


Debt change as percentage of GDP:
Bill Clinton - 1993 - 38.2% 2001 - 57.3% (-14%)
George W. Bush 2001 - 57.3% 2009 - 76% (+33%)
Baraka Obama 2009 - 76% 2015 - 104.17% (+37%)
Ronald Reagan - 1981 - 32.2% 1989 - 52.9 (+64%)

Some pundits claim that the debt exploded under Obama's administration, the facts show that it is simply not true. While George W. Bush reversed a downtrend of deficit and debt initiated by Bill Clinton by engaging in costly wars among others, Obama had to deal with the largest recession since the 1929 depression. The big debt presidents were definitely Reagan and George H Bush.

Unemployment rate back to historical lows

Where George Bush took an unemployment rate of 4.2% and left the presidency with a 7.8% rate, Obama brought the rate back down to 4.7%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
A side-note on Job Participation Rate

I often hear the talking-heads speak of the "false Obama economic recovery", stating that the U.S' job participation is lowest in decades. However, the chart below shows that this trend has started well before Obama got in power. And, the job participation rate was also much lower during the 1950's and 60's.

The participation rate "measures the number of people in the labor force as a percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years old and over. In other words, it is the percentage of the population that is either working or actively seeking work" (Src: BLS)

Therefore, if there is an increase in the number of retirees, students, people with disabilities preventing them from working, or even people incarcerated, the rate will drop.

Taken on its own, the Job Participation Rate is not a good measure to make a judgement of the economic policies of an administration.

A comment from the U.S' Bureau of Labor Statistics:
"During the 1970s and 1980s, the labor force grew vigorously as women’s labor force participation rates surged and the baby-boom generation entered the labor market. However, the dynamic demographic, economic, and social forces that once spurred the level, growth, and composition of the labor force have changed and are now damping labor force growth. The labor force participation rate of women, which peaked in 1999, has been on a declining trend. In addition, instead of entering the labor force, baby boomers are retiring in large numbers and exiting the workforce. Once again, the baby-boom generation has become a generator of change, this time in its retirement. Moreover, the jobless recovery of the 2001 recession, coupled with the severe economic impact of the 2007–2009 recession, caused disruptions in the labor market. In the first 12 years of the 21st century, the growth of the population has slowed and labor force participation rates generally have declined. As a result, labor force growth also has slowed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the next 10 years will bring about an aging labor force that is growing slowly, a declining overall labor force participation rate, and more diversity in the racial and ethnic composition of the labor force."

U.S. Consumer Confidence is back from the abyss
Obama inherited a terrible Consumer Confidence Index from George W. Bush in 2009.
But it is now back to historical high averages

Controlled federal government spending

Federal government spending as percentage of GDP:
Bill Clinton - 1993 - 66.6% 2000 - 33.7% (-51%)
Baraka Obama 2009 - 43% 2015 - 38.1%
George W. Bush 2001 - 35% 2009 - 39.5% (+13%)
Ronald Reagan - 1981 - 32.2% 1989 - 52.9

Again here, pundits tend to paint Obama as a big spender while the data shows that Bush and Reagan vastly outspent him. It is often overlooked, but strictly because Republicans usually count military spending as "necessary".

A president informed by Science, not faith

"Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security"

Obama repeals Bush-era policy that limited federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research

Perception of the United States on the world stage

That's an easy one. President Barack Obama has overwhelmingly turned around the opinion that the rest of the world has of the United States. Below is a chart from Pew's data on countries 'favorable' opinion of the United States. First 6 countries listed are the G7

George W. Bush
Latest available
under Obama
Canada 55 65 18%
France 42 63 50%
Germany 31 57 84%
Italy 53 72 36%
Japan 50 72 44%
United Kingdom 53 61 15%
Argentina 22 43 95%
Australia 46 60 30%
Chile 55 68 24%
China 41 50 22%
Czech Republic 45 58 29%
Egypt 21 10 -52%
Ghana 80 89 11%
Indonesia 37 62 68%
Israel 78 81 4%
Jordan 19 14 -26%
Kenya 87 84 -3%
Lebanon 51 39 -24%
Malaysia 27 54 100%
Mexico 47 66 40%
Pakistan 19 22 16%
Palestinian ter. 13 26 100%
Peru 61 70 15%
Poland 68 74 9%
Russia 46 15 -67%
South Africa 60 74 23%
South Korea 70 84 20%
Spain 33 59 79%
Sweden 46 69 50%
Turkey 12 29 142%
Uganda 64 76 19%

Protected more national park land and waters than any other U.S president in history

During his mandate, president Barack Obama has permanently protected 265 million acres of America's public lands and waters. That is more than any other president in history.


Banned usage of torture
President Barack Obama banned the use of waterboarding and several other interrogation methods in January 2009. Details are in 'Executive Order 13491—Ensuring Lawful Interrogations'. Basically, the only methods allowed for interrogations are those listed in the 'U.S. Field Army Manual on Interrogation'

Additional info: (Torture doesn't work)

Iran nuclear deal

The question I have for people opposing that deal is and has always been; what was the alternative? Status-quo where Iran was a few months away from having an actual nuclear device? Declare war to Iran?
A negotiated treaty was the best, and smarted solution for the problem at hand. It also seems to me that many opponents conveniently and politically position the treaty as a bilateral one (U.S.-Iran) while it is actually a multilateral engagement (U.S, U.K., France, Russia, China, Germany, and Iran)

Here are a few of the salient points of the agreement for those that would not bother to do some basic Google search:
"Iran will sacrifice two-thirds of its ability to enrich uranium, the vital process that could be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb. All but 6,000 of Iran’s 19,500 centrifuges will be placed in storage, monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iran will export all but 300kg of its entire stockpile of eight tonnes of low-enriched uranium.
The combined effect of these measures will be to place Iran about 12 months away from having enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb – compared with its current “breakout” time of three or four months.
Once the IAEA has confirmed that Iran has taken these steps, America and its allies will lift all nuclear-related economic sanctions, including oil embargos and financial restrictions. This could release over $100 billion (£65 billion) of frozen Iranian assets.
Iran will remain subject to a UN arms embargo for five years. Restrictions will stay on its ballistic missile programme for another eight."


Syrian civil war

This one is a tough one. Insight is 20/20 and would they have known how the conflict would degenerate, it is unlikely that the western powers would have been involved the way they have been.
One thing that is clear to me is that the U.S. didn't have a strong vested interest in Syria other than a humanitarian one. Should president Barack Obama have involved the United States earlier or differently? Possibly.
The civil war in Syria has been a tragedy.

Additional information:

Reduced reliance on foreign oil, and oil in general


The stats show a clear drop in reliance on foreign oil. A large part is attributable to the 2008 crash. However, the trend has continued post-recovery. It is highly beneficial because it means that that there's less of a need for the U.S administration to cozy-up to brutal dictatorships that possess large oil reserves. Meanwhile, an ongoing shift to less polluting sources is progressively alleviating the environmental consequences of local energy production and consumption.

Restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba
With Fidel Castro dead, and Raoul showing signs of more openness, restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba can only lead to more trade and liberalization of the Caribbean country. Sure, Cuba is not free yet, but it will come, in time.

Osama Bin-Laden is no-more, Al-Qaida virtually non-existent

Pulled the U.S troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan
Pattern of someone who's not a war-awk, but will do what is necessary to get the job done. Barack Obama has delivered on that promise of withdrawing, while adjusting when the situation called for it...
Additional information:

Americans with healthcare insurance at historical high

Probably the most hated policy of the Obama administration, the Affordable Healthcare Act which aims to provide health insurance coverage for all, now under threat, is certainly one that was most difficult to achieve. It is undeniable that it has provided more universal coverage than anything that was available before. Let's go through some facts:

The United States pays more for health care delivery than any other rich nation on the planet, yet, it is the only country not offering universal health coverage 

Out of the top 25 richest countries (GDP-per-capita), only the United States does not have universal healthcare coverage. And the U.S.' is also the costliest system.
Hong Kong has universal healthcare, highest life expectance, one of the lowest child mortality rate, yet consistently listed as the top freest economy.

Republicans want to repeal Obamacare but have not agreed on a replacement plan. Health Savings Account are a sorry excuse for a plan and the only other place in the world where they exist as part of the overall healthcare delivery system, is in Singapore. But in Singapore, the HSA is on-top of the universal health care system.

In terms of health outcomes, the United States is doing comparatively worse


From other countries' experience, we clearly see that there's no correlation between increase in costs and universal coverage. The average American does not receive better or faster care. Therefore, any remaining reasons for not providing universal care are purely ideological.

Obamacare (AHA) did dramatically reduced the uninsured rate


Once established that universal coverage of quality care is the desired outcome, there can be only one conclusion which is that, with the number of uninsured Americans at historical low-levels, the Affordable Healthcare Act, while not perfect, is an unequivocal success.

Obamacare is not going broke fast. Repealing it without a good replacement would be costly and leave millions without insurance and treatment


Unless Paul Ryan and his band of merry men are complete idiots, they know that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to come-up with a full replacement plan providing adequate coverage for the 23 million Americans that will become uninsured. It is therefore logical to believe that their aim is strictly to dismantle Obamacare with little regard for providing any kind of significant alternative. Trump, on the other hand, seems to think he can find a magic replacement. Good luck! The best that can be hoped is that he does as with everything else; take someone else's idea, brand it his own, then declare victory. That wouldn't be too bad in this case if Obamacare was essentially just re-branded Trumpcare; people would still get the benefits. Whether history judge him as a con-artist or a great man is irrelevant.

So, there you go!

Barack Obama inspired a generation which saw an ultimate glass-ceiling being shattered. He delivered on his most significant election pledges. I am confident that the wisdom of history will look back at his presidency and judge him for what he actually did, rather than the perception of some of what he did. As far as I can see, more than any president in recent history, "Yes, he did"...

Additional information and comments:

President Obama's Farewell Address

"So I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s. And I was still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for a purpose in my life. And it was a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.

This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.

After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it's not just my belief. It's the beating heart of our American idea --- our bold experiment in self-government. It's the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

What a radical idea. A great gift that our Founders gave to us: The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.

For 240 years, our nation's call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It's what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It's what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. It's what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It's what powered workers to organize. It's why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima, Iraq and Afghanistan. And why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs, as well.
So that's what we mean when we say America is exceptional -- not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow. Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It's always been contentious. Sometimes it's been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.

If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history. If I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran's nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11. If I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens. If I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that's what we did. That's what you did.
You were the change. You answered people's hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected President to the next. I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it's up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.
We have what we need to do so. We have everything we need to meet those challenges. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

That's what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy. Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued. They quarreled. Eventually they compromised. They 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're all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatens that solidarity. And the beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism --- these forces haven't just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland. In other words, it will determine our future.

To begin with, our democracy won't work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. And the good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again. The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I've said and I mean it -- if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we've made to our health care system and that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.

Because that, after all, is why we serve. Not to score points or take credit, but to make people's lives better.
But for all the real progress that we've made, we know it's not enough. Our economy doesn't work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class. That's the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal. While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind -- the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who's just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills -- convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful -- that's a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.
But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won't come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.
And so we're going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now, and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from this new economy don't avoid their obligations to the country that's made their very success possible.
We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can't be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don't create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.
There's a second threat to our democracy -- and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now, I've lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.
But we're not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do. If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we're unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don't look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children -- because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America's workforce. And we have shown that our economy doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.
So if we're going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination -- in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system. That is what our Constitution and our highest ideals require.
But laws alone won't be enough. Hearts must change. It won't change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction -- Atticus Finch -- who said "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face -- not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he's got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change. We have to pay attention, and listen.
For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn't suddenly vanish in the '60s -- that when minority groups voice discontent, they're not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they're not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised.
For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles -- who it was said we're going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn't weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation's creed, and this nation was strengthened.
So regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder. We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.
And that's not easy to do. For too many of us, it's become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste -- all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it's true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.
And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. But politics is a battle of ideas. That's how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we 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 might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we're going to keep talking past each other, and we'll make common ground and compromise impossible.
And isn't that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we're cutting taxes for corporations? How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It's not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it's self-defeating. Because, as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.
Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we've halved our dependence on foreign oil; we've doubled our renewable energy; we've led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won't have time to debate the existence of climate change. They'll be busy dealing with its effects: more environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.
Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country -- the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.
It is that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse -- the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.
It's that spirit -- a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might -- that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression; that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but built on principles -- the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and speech, and assembly, and an independent press.
That order is now being challenged -- first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets and open democracies and and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what's true and what's right.
Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, because of our intelligence officers, and law enforcement, and diplomats who support our troops, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years. And although Boston and Orlando and San Bernardino and Fort Hood remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We have taken out tens of thousands of terrorists -- including bin Laden. The global coalition we're leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe.
And to all who serve or have served, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief. And we all owe you a deep debt of gratitude.
But protecting our way of life, that's not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.
And that's why, for the past eight years, I've worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That's why we've ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That's why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans, who are just as patriotic as we are.
That's why we cannot withdraw from big global fights -- to expand democracy, and human rights, and women's rights, and LGBT rights. No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that's part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.
So let's be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world -- unless we give up what we stand for and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.
Which brings me to my final point: Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making 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 congressional districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.
But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.
Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it's really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning. With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That's up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.
In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but "from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth." And so we have to preserve this truth with "jealous anxiety;" that we should reject "the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties" that make us one.
America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren't even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.
It falls to each of us to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we've been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.
So, you see, that's what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there's an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you're disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.
Sometimes you'll win. Sometimes you'll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people, that can be a risk, and there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America -- and in Americans -- will be confirmed.
Mine sure has been. Over the course of these eight years, I've seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in a Charleston church. I've seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch. I've seen wounded warriors who at points were given up for dead walk again. I've seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I've seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees, or work for peace, and, above all, to look out for each other.
So that faith that I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change -- that faith has been rewarded in ways I could not have possibly imagined. And I hope your faith has, too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home, you were there with us in 2004, in 2008, 2012 -- maybe you still can't believe we pulled this whole thing off. Let me tell you, you're not the only ones.
Michelle, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side, for the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn't ask for and you made it your own, with grace and with grit and with style and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And the new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. So you have made me proud. And you have made the country proud.
Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women. You are smart and you are beautiful, but more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion. You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I've done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.
To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware's favorite son -- you were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. And we love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our lives.
To my remarkable staff: For eight years -- and for some of you, a whole lot more -- I have drawn from your energy, and every day I tried to reflect back what you displayed -- heart, and character, and idealism. I've watched you grow up, get married, have kids, start incredible new journeys of your own. Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. You guarded against cynicism. And the only thing that makes me prouder than all the good that we've done is the thought of all the amazing things that you're going to achieve from here.
And to all of you out there -- every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change -- you are the best supporters and organizers anybody could ever hope for, and I will be forever grateful. Because you did change the world. You did.
And that's why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans -- especially so many young people out there -- to believe that you can make a difference, to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.
Let me tell you, this generation coming up -- unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic -- I've seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America. You know that constant change has been America's hallmark; that it's not something to fear but something to embrace. You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You'll soon outnumber all of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.
My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won't stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you're young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President -- the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change -- but in yours.
I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can.
Yes, we did. Yes, we can.
Thank you. God bless you. May God continue to bless the United States of America."