Obama Says The Next Election's More Important Than The One That Elected Him

It was an unusual statement — and an unusual speech.

Former President Barack Obama said the November midterm elections are the most important of his life in a speech from Illinois on the current state of politics. 

Obama with the precedent set by past presidents with a rebuke of the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans. But he also turned his speech into a call-to-action for young voters to show up and cast a ballot in November. 

"Some of you may think I'm exaggerating when I say this November's elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime," Obama said. "I know politicians say that all the time. I have been guilty of saying it a few times, particularly when I was on the ballot. But just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire."

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Through his extraordinary speech, which was full of an unusual number of criticisms from a former president, Obama also layered in his quintessential hope and calls for unity. He pointed out that neither party was above racism or bigotry, noting that Democrats had a long and ugly history of their own. But he insisted that he believed the biggest threat to democracy was people sitting on the sidelines while others fill the airwaves and the ballots. 

"When we don't vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void," he said. "But here's the good news. In two months, we have the chance, not the certainty, but the chance to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics. Because there is actually only one real check on bad policy and abuse of power. That's you. You and your vote."

Some people reacted gleefully on social media, while other conservative pundits and politicians criticized Obama for breaking the longstanding tradition of former presidents not criticizing the person currently sitting in the Oval Office.

Obama also went down memory lane, sharing tales from his time running for office and noting that he went after every possible vote he could get. He said it's not about appealing to certain demographics, it's about reaching out to everybody and competing everywhere by making the best policies you possibly can. 

He shared his optimism about the younger generation, noting that they had enough eligible voters to shape the country and that he had been encouraged by seeing how many of them were engaged with politics. Still, he warned, just one in five young people voted in the 2016 election — and that's not good enough. 

"If you don't like what's going on right now, and you shouldn't, do not complain, don't hashtag, don't get anxious, don't retreat, don't binge on whatever it is you're bingeing on, don't lose yourself in ironic detachment, don't put your head in the sand, don't boo," he said. "Vote. Vote."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / John Gress Media Inc

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