“I thought it was very much in keeping with a statesman approach who is concerned about the future of small ‘d’ democracy in the United States and on a non-partisan basis,” said Daniel Kreiss, a UNC journalism professor who researches political communication.
U.S. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama hoped to share optimism in democracy.
“The President retains profound confidence in our country and in our citizens and in our system of democracy,” Earnest said Tuesday.
He said Obama recognizes the need for engaged citizens in a healthy democracy.
“It’s not blind faith, so you’ll hear the president once again encourage the American people to take an active role in their democracy not just in the run-up to elections, but every day, in engaging in their communities, in being educated on the issues and making their voice heard and engaging in a broader public debate about what’s best for the country,” Earnest said.
Despite distinct political priorities and philosophies, Kreiss said Americans have to have a democratic imagination that includes those who are different from them, too.
“There is still solidarity that makes us all American, and we have to honor the institutions that allow us to have political conflict but in an organized way,” he said, analyzing Obama’s rhetoric.
Obama said democracy requires basic solidarity but not uniformity — showcasing his respect for the political process.
“In 10 days the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy,” Obama said in his speech. “... 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.”
Earnest told the press the president’s speech was not designed to be a stage to advocate for specific issues.
“There will be a time and a place for the President to speak at more length about what he intends to do once he leaves office. But today— tonight, the speech will be focused on the future of the country, the future of our democracy, and just how important it is for all Americans to be engaged in the work of building our country and moving it in the direction of a more perfect union,” Earnest said.
Kreiss said he drew parallels between the Obama farewell address and a March speech by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Both describe living in a democracy and the values Americans hold, he said.
“A number of prominent conservatives who were watching the speech affirmed that Obama had issued a powerful call for civil solidarity for what makes us American for citizenship,” he said.
Obama celebrated the potential for the United States to evolve and grow.
“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.”