Obama: ‘the makings of a great ex-president’

In my end is my beginning: The president has ten days left before Trump takes over. © PA

Last night Barack Obama made his closing speech as leader of the most powerful nation on Earth. Now some experts are saying it is as an ex-president that he will achieve true greatness.

Yesterday evening Barack Obama stood in front of thousands of people in Chicago to make his final speech as president of the United States.

He reflected on his time in office. He gave guarded warnings to Donald Trump, who will take over next Friday. And his final request? ‘I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours.’

Now one question remains. What next?

At 55, Obama is one of the youngest presidents to leave the White House. He will stay in Washington, D.C. until his daughter leaves high school, but his future career is still uncertain.

He has spoken about running a basketball team, teaching law, or joining a tech firm — yesterday Spotify jokingly advertised for a ‘President of Playlists’ with ‘at least eight years’ experience running a highly-regarded nation’. Certainly he will write his memoirs and play a lot of golf.

But in an interview with The New Yorker after the election, he hinted that his priorities had been shifted by Trump’s success. If Hillary Clinton had won he would ‘just turn over the keys’.

Instead he will watch as Republicans try to undo his signature achievements. He does not want to always be ‘popping up’, he said, but he will defend the ‘core’ ideals of America if he thinks it is ‘necessary’. And both he and his wife Michelle are interested in boosting ‘the next generation of leadership.’

The futures of ex-presidents have always fascinated the people they once led. George Washington became America’s biggest whiskey producer. John Quincy Adams entered Congress to campaign against slavery. William Howard Taft was made the head of the supreme court.

In more recent years, they have chosen one of two routes. Some, like George W. Bush, have shrugged off the burden of leadership in favour of simple hobbies; in his case painting. Others have become humanitarians; Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomacy after the White House, and his charitable foundation has almost eradicated guinea worm disease.

Could the next phase of Obama’s life be the most important of all?

Barack to the future

Unlikely, say some. He has had his chance to change the world; he spent eight long years sitting in the most important office on Earth. He will never get that kind of power again — and he has given no indication that he wants it. He should enjoy finally being allowed some peace and quiet.

Don’t be so sure, say others. He is still extremely popular, and it is not in his nature to keep his head down. Now that he does not have to worry about winning votes or battling with Congress, he can finally start saying what he really thinks about issues. After all, you don’t have to be president to make a difference.

You Decide

  1. What should President Obama do next?
  2. Will he be remembered as one of America’s great presidents?

Activities

  1. Write a mock CV for Barack Obama, including his key skills and career history.
  2. Choose two other US presidents and research what they did after stepping down. Write a short comparison of their lives after the White House.

Some People Say...

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time.”

Barack Obama

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should anyone care what he does next?
Obama has an enormous amount of influence, should he choose to wield it. In the USA, his popularity has soared during his last weeks in office, particularly among millennial voters. He could also decide to take advantage of his influence abroad: 77% of Europeans had confidence in Obama in June 2016, while just 9% had confidence in Donald Trump.
What will happen on Obama’s last day?
Traditionally presidents begin their final day by issuing pardons. Obama has 1,400 pardon requests, mostly from prisoners serving long sentences — plus the whistleblower Edward Snowden. He will then host the Trump family for coffee, leave a note for the new president, and attend Trump’s inauguration ceremony. Finally, he will return home and begin his new life.

Word Watch

Chicago
Obama’s hometown, where his political career began: he worked as a community organiser.
Signature achievements
The most significant is Obamacare, a health insurance programme that Donald Trump and the Republican Party have said they will start trying to repeal on ‘day one’.
George Washington
After stepping down, the first president of the United States retired to his plantation in Virginia until his death two years later.
Congress
The parliamentary branch of the US government. There are two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Supreme court
The legal branch of the US government. It includes nine judges who have the final say on America’s biggest court cases and any changes to the constitution. Its members are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and allowed to serve for the rest of their life.
Painting
His recent work involves portraits of soldiers who fought in Afghanistan.
Guinea worm disease
There were just 22 cases of this painful disease in Africa in 2015. Carter says that fully eradicating it would be his ‘most gratifying experience.’

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