Obama Seeks National Unity 02/10 06:20
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nine years ago to the day, Barack Obama stood before the
Old State Capitol in Springfield and announced his run for president, declaring
that "the ways of Washington must change." On Wednesday, Obama returns to the
Illinois capital at the twilight of his political career, pleading once again
for the type of national unity that has eluded him as president.
Obama's speech to the Illinois General Assembly is a homecoming rich with
nostalgia, as the president retraces steps he might have walked two decades ago
as a young state senator from Chicago. White House aides said Obama wanted to
return to the place his career started to discuss how the U.S. can "build a
better politics" in which Americans aren't so starkly divided by race, religion
or political party.
It's a goal that Obama readily concedes he was unable to achieve during two
terms in the White House.
In his final State of the Union address last month, Obama lamented that
rancor and suspicion in Washington had gotten worse, not better, since his
election. Rarely one to admit defeat, Obama called it "one of the few regrets"
of his presidency.
"There's no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might
have better bridged the divide," Obama said.
Obama's short stop in Springfield comes at the start of a weeklong trip to
California, where he will raise money for Democrats and crack jokes on "The
Ellen DeGeneres Show." If tradition holds, he'll also squeeze in a few rounds
On Monday, Obama will host leaders of 10 Asian countries for a two-day
summit at the famed Sunnylands estate. As part of his campaign to expand U.S.
influence in Asia, Obama established a precedent of attending the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations confab every year, and decided to bring the leaders
to home turf in his final year.
In Springfield, Obama will call for making it easier to vote and embrace "a
politics of hard-won hope," the White House said --- themes that animated his
longshot campaign for president. When Obama entered the race, he was a
first-term U.S. senator largely unknown to the American people.
"This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship,
restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can
withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change," Obama said in
In many ways, those obstacles are more arduous now than ever.
In the presidential campaign to succeed Obama, Republicans are arguing about
whether to ban Muslims from the U.S. and trading personal epithets barely
suitable to print. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is calling for
political revolution fueled by animosity toward corporate interests.
And on issue after issue, Obama's agenda has been thwarted by stark
disagreements with Republicans over the government's role, leading Obama to act
unilaterally in ways his opponents say is fit for a dictator. So disinclined
were congressional Republicans to entertain Obama's ideas this year that they
refused to hold a hearing on his final budget, breaking with decades of
So there's more than a hint of irony in Obama's appeal for Americans to
start working together, Illinois Republicans said.
"I don't know who in Washington would look and say, 'Hey, follow our model
in Washington. We're really working well,' " Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said
Obama returns to a statehouse that has seen its share of turmoil since he
last served there in 2004.
In the past decade, Illinois has seen two governors convicted of corruption
and later sent to prison --- including Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich,
currently serving time in a federal prison for trying to sell the U.S. Senate
seat that Obama vacated when he became president.
Meanwhile, Democrats who control both chambers have been butting heads with
Rauner since the Republican and former businessman took office last year. The
two sides have yet to approve a budget more than eight months into the fiscal
year, prompting massive cuts to higher education and social service programs.
Nor have they managed to accomplish much of anything else.
Elected officials will make up the bulk of Obama's audience along with
invited guests, the Illinois House Speaker's office said. Though the public
won't be allowed to attend, Obama planned to visit later Monday with a group of
supporters and volunteers gathered elsewhere to watch his speech.