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John T. Bennett: Obama's farewell address, Trump rallies a study in contrast

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Op Eds

The friendly crowd in Chicago booed when President Barack Obama mentioned his fast-approaching return to private life when he will hand power to his successor, Donald Trump.

"No, no, no, no, no," Obama stopped them, saying next Friday's "peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next" is a "hallmark of our democracy."

It was reminiscent of the times he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton when he would mention Trump and hear even louder jeers from Democratic audiences. Rather than play into the crowd's animosity toward the then-GOP nominee, Obama responded each time this way: "Don't boo. Vote."

And it provides contrast to the incoming president, who encouraged chants of "lock her up" at his rallies in reference to Clinton and her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

To be sure, Obama expressed plenty of criticisms of his Republican foes over his eight years in office. But, by all accounts, the man who will follow Obama plans to use emotional, bombastic, off-the-cuff 140-character Twitter rants where his predecessor often opted for Ivy League eloquence and speeches he spent days writing, and as his aides often say with a slight grimace, re-writing.

Obama used much of his farewell address Tuesday night not to assess the state of the union but to dissect the "state of our democracy."

"Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised," Obama said. "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."

The speech was vintage Obama, a blend of eloquence, historical reflections, honest criticism of both political parties and a plea for all Americans to "help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now."

From his pledge to publicly support any plan to replace his signature health care law that would be "demonstrably better" to his words about minorities to his call for all elected officials to "pay attention and listen" to the "middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he's got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change," even his critics said the farewell address was a final graceful act for the 44th president.

"America will forever be indebted to him ... for the character that he showed, and for the class that he showed, and for the dignity that he showed," Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman-turned MSNBC host, said Wednesday morning. "As a man, as a husband, as a father, as a person, in his eight years in the White House, his character was beyond reproach."

Saturday offered an example of how the 44th and 45th presidents communicate and view the office so differently.

As U.S. intelligence officials, the Obama administration and lawmakers from both parties were warning about an escalating threat from Russia, Trump -- much like a ratings-minded sports radio host -- played the contrarian role.

He doubled down on his call for warmer U.S.-Russia relations. But where Obama, the former constitutional law professor, would have started a lengthy lecture aimed at changing his critics' thinking about what would amount to a 180-degree shift in U.S. policy, Trump resorted to name-calling, writing that only "stupid" people would oppose cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

About The Writer

John T. Bennett is a columnist for CQ-Roll Call. Readers may email him at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com.

(c)2017 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com

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