Here’s a look at the highlights of his roughly hour-long address.
A rebuke of hyperpartisan politics
Part of Obama’s prime-time address served as a call for political engagement after a grueling election won by Republican Donald Trump, who made undoing Obama’s achievements the centerpiece of his campaign.
The president made an appeal for the American people to embrace inclusiveness and to preserve his legacy before his successor is inaugurated Jan. 20.
”Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same,” Obama said. “But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”
He also criticized the “rise of naked partisanship,” and even addressed fake news: “Increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there,” he said.
He also urged for Americans to listen to those with differing opinions, saying that if that fails to happen, “we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.”
He also seemed to address legislators head-on when it comes to partisan politics: “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.”
A quick rundown of his accomplishments
Not to toot his own horn, but Obama wanted to make one thing clear: He did, in fact, manage to make some positive strides during his time in office.
“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, and 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 – you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did,” he said.
A defense of the Affordable Care Act
As Trump and Republicans have made headlines in recent days for their efforts to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” the president made one last defense of his legacy legislation — and even managed to get in a subtle dig at those who oppose it.
“The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in fifty years,” Obama said. “And if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.”
A criticism of climate change deniers
Obama didn’t mince words when it came to climate change and those who deny its existence.
“Without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary,” he said. “To simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders.”
‘Hearts must change’: A call to work toward better race relations
Amid the recent tensions between police and African-Americans, as well as the recent rise of the “alt-right” movement, the president made an appeal to Americans to be more tolerant of others, imploring: “Hearts must change.”
“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic,” Obama said. “All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.
“If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce,” Obama continued. “Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination. . . But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change.”
The crowd’s involvement
As Obama’s farewell speech got underway, yelling from the crowd could be heard before many evolved into a “four more years” chant, referring to the length of a US presidential term. Obama let it go on for a few verses before chuckling and briefly replying: “I can’t do that.”
Later on, as Obama said he would make his final point in the speech, several in the crowd could audibly be heard saying, “Aww.”
There were tears aplenty on Tuesday night: When talking about his daughters, Malia, who was in the audience, could be seen wiping the streams away from her eyes.
Obama’s delivery was forceful for most of his speech, but by the end, he was also wiping away tears as the crowd embraced him one last time.