President Barack Obama addressed the Illinois state legislature on Wednesday, giving a stirring address about the need for political unity in America today.
It was a beautiful, moving speech, stuffed with quotes from Abraham Lincoln, loaded with lessons of reconciliations past, and laden with ideas for bridging the divide.
And yet it bore no resemblance whatsoever to Obama’s own presidency, which has been one of the most divisive since the Civil War.
Obama was speaking to a state capitol in crisis–a crisis almost entirely of his party’s own making.
The Democrats, led by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and the new Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, are locked in a seven-month-old struggle over the state budget. Rauner was elected on a promise to restore the state’s finances–by far the worst of any state in the Union–without raising taxes. The Democrats are defying him–but have no real alternative.
It is a mess that Obama abandoned in 2005, without making any positive difference whatsoever.
Obama was known for voting “present” in his time as an Illinois State Senator, and only passed a slew of bills when party bosses chose to help him pad his resumé by giving him credit for others’ work.
The lingering stench of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Tony Rezko pursued him to Washington, and his Chicago cronies filled the White House. Other than that, he left Illinois behind.
This visit was pure vanity, a valedictory lap in his final year in office, on the ninth anniversary of the day he launched his seemingly improbable presidential campaign from the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield.
Obama wanted to address, from on high, the machine politicians before whom he once groveled and scraped. He wanted to remind them of just how far he had come since Illinois, how small they have all remained.
But Obama’s speech was also a reminder of how disappointing his presidency has been.
The president lectured the legislators, and the country, about the need to treat opponents decently: “Insist on us having a modicum of civility,” he said.
This is the same president who, just a few months ago, accused Republicans of making “common cause” with the ayatollahs shouting “Death to America!” in Iran. When given an opportunity to take it back, he refused.
This is a president who responded to Republican suggestions on reviving the economy in 2009 by declaring simply, “I won.”
This is a president who pushed Obamacare through Congress on a procedural trick without any Republican votes.
This is a president who killed a “grand bargain” on the budget in 2011; who avoided the Senate on the Iran deal; who evaded Congress on immigration; and who defied Congress on climate change, gun control, and more.
There is nothing–not one single thing–that President Barack Obama has done to increase national unity. Even his speech in Tucson, Arizona after the horrific mass shooting there in January 2011 became a rallying cry against the newly-elected Tea Party Republicans.
To Obama, civility and compromise mean agreeing to whatever he wants to do.
It takes astonishing cynicism for a man to lecture others about his own faults. But then, his audience was in on the gag.
When Obama criticized gerrymandering, the Illinois legislators responsible for the worst gerrymandering in the country applauded loudly.
He spoke at length about making it easier to vote, and said nothing about his party’s system of superdelegates, which meant that the loser of the New Hampshire primary still won more delegates.
Obama’s true calling was as a motivational speaker. He never should have been president. He behaves as if he never was.