Obama Decries ‘Radical’ Conservatism, Rallies Young Voters In UIUC Address

Photographs courtesy of Bercham Kamber

Former President Barack Obama visited the University of Illinois Friday, Sept. 7,  to deliver his first public address ahead of the midterm elections. The Democrat’s appearance in Urbana-Champaign came before he accepted the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government. “It’s good to be home,” Obama opened. “It’s good to see corn. Beans.” He thanked U of I system President Timothy Killeen, as well as Sen. Dick Durbin and former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar, who were among the attendees. Then came Obama’s call to action: head to the polls. He called this November’s elections “more important than any he can remember in [his] lifetime.”

   Obama told the crowd of about 1300, including students from all three U of I campuses, that they were coming of age in time when the powerful and privileged push back against citizens demanding inalienable human rights and opportunity.“ It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause,” Obama said, met with applause. “He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.” He catalogued long-term economic trends of his presidency, citing higher household incomes, declining poverty rates and an all-time low rate of uninsured individuals. “I mention all this just so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started,” Obama said and smiled as the crowd roared. He said neither party has a monopoly on wisdom, but “over the past few decades, the politics of division, resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party.” He criticized Congress’ hand in doling out tax cuts to the wealthy, restricting voting rights, rejecting facts on things like climate change and refusing to consider a Supreme Court Justice nominee put forth by a Democratic president.   

    He also called out President Trump for undermining foreign alliances, sabotaging the Affordable Care Act and threatening to maim the free press. “It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal,” Obama said. “It’s radical.” The pointed critique didn’t stop there. Obama warned against putting trust in White House staffers.“They’re not accountable,” he said. “They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House and saying don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10 percent.” Obama told the crowd that November’s elections offer the opportunity–not the guarantee–to “restore some semblance of some sanity to our politics.” Regardless of party affiliation, he said, “you should still be concerned with our current course, and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.”

   He urged voters to stand up to discrimination and bullying, asking: “How hard can that be–saying that Nazis are bad?”Indifference and cynicism are the biggest threats to democracy, Obama said, adding that if you want to enact change, you have to show up. He noted that fewer than one in five young people went to the polls during the 2014 midterms. “You are the antidote, your participation and spirit, and determination, not just in this election but in every subsequent election, and in the days between elections,” Obama said. After leaving UIUC, Obama made an appearance at a local coffee shop with Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker, before continuing on to campaign stops in California and Ohio.

   Students in attendance were awarded tickets through a lottery system. The Associated Press reports 17 times as many students entered as there are seats in the auditorium. President Trump told reporters he tried to watch the speech, but fell asleep.