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Obama To The American People: 'Our Best Days Are Still Ahead'

President Obama waves goodbye at the conclusion of a news conference at the White House on Dec. 16.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
President Obama waves goodbye at the conclusion of a news conference at the White House on Dec. 16.

As President Obama's tenure in the White House draws to a close, he's looking back on eight years of work — and ahead toward what he sees as a brighter future for the U.S.

In a letter to the American public, Obama says he's proud that the country is "stronger and more prosperous" than it was eight years ago — and hopeful that the country will build on the progress he sees.

The letter is paired with a set of "Cabinet Exit Memos" — Cabinet members wrote about the work their teams have done, and the work they see that remains for the next administration.

The secretary of the interior says new parks and public lands tell a more inclusive story of America; the secretary of agriculture highlights a drop in rural unemployment; the secretary of Veterans Affairs points out, as an aside, that the VA is still providing benefits to the child of a Union soldier — from the Civil War.

Obama, for his part, begins with a summary of the woes the U.S. faced at the beginning of 2009, in the midst of a financial crisis and two wars. He describes economic growth, an increase in health insurance coverage, a boost in renewable energy production and troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things.

He describes the state of the country today as "a situation I'm proud to leave to my successor," whom he never names.

"And it's thanks to you," Obama writes to the American people, "to the hard work you've put in; the sacrifices you've made for your families and communities; the way you've looked out for one another."

He says that "change is never easy, and never quick," and that he wishes he'd been able to enact gun safety measures and immigration reform.

"We still have more work to do for every American still in need of a good job or a raise, paid leave or a dignified retirement," he said. "What won't help is taking health care away from 30 million Americans, most of them white and working class; denying overtime pay to workers, most of whom have more than earned it; or privatizing Medicare and Social Security and letting Wall Street regulate itself again — none of which middle-class Americans voted for."

Obama concluded:

"We will have to move forward as we always have — together. As a people who believe that out of many, we are one; that we are bound not by any one race or religion, but rather an adherence to a common creed; that all of us are created equal in the eyes of God. And I'm confident we will. Because the change we've brought about these past eight years was never about me. It was about you. It is you, the American people, who have made the progress of the last eight years possible. It is you who will make our future progress possible. That, after all, is the story of America — a story of progress. However halting, however incomplete, however harshly challenged at each point on our journey — the story of America is a story of progress. ...

"It has been the privilege of my life to serve as your President. And as I prepare to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen, I'm proud to say that we have laid a new foundation for America. A new future is ours to write. And I'm as confident as ever that it will be led by the United States of America — and that our best days are still ahead."

Obama is expected to deliver a farewell address on Tuesday in Chicago.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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