tv President Obama Address to Illinois General Assembly CSPAN February 10, 2016 8:09pm-9:14pm EST
the economy. >> nine years ago today, then senator barack obama announced his campaign for president. marking the anniversary the president spoke to the illinois general assembly in springfield where he call for unity and compromise to fix american politics. this is one hour. >> [applause]. [applause]. [inaudible] >> thank you. you very much. thank you. thank you so much.
[applause]. thank you. [applause]. thank you. please have a seat. thank you so much. mr. speaker, mr. president, members of the general assembly, my fellow illinoisans, it's kinda fun to start a speech like that twice in one month. what an incredible privilege it is to address this chamber. to governor and the senator, members of congress, speaker madigan, former governor pat
quinn, mayor and the people of springfield, thank you for such a warm welcome as i come back home. [applause]. thank you so much. it is good to be home. thank you. [applause]. it is great to see so many old friends like john culbertson, and others, i miss you guys. it is great to be in the state capital.
the in here today calls to my the first time i spoke on the senate floor, that was 20 years ago. i was passionate, idealistic, ready to make a difference, just to stand in that magnificent chamber was enough to fill me up with a heightened sense of purpose. i probably needed a little little dose of reality when i first arrived so i'm rose to speak about a bill. i thought i made some compelling points with irrefutable information. i was was about to sit down, feeling good about myself when k phillips slapped it on my desk. there is some young people here so for those that don't remember mr. phillips was the majority leader at the time, he was a a marine and a big shot of white hair. chopped on a cigar, was so
politically incorrect that you don't even know how to describe it. [laughter] but he always treated me well and he can buy set me on the back and he said kid, that was a pretty good speech. in fact i think you changed a lot of mines. but you didn't change any votes. [laughter] that was my first lesson in humility. the next came when i presented my own first bill. it was a simple piece of legislation that would make it a lot easier for illinois manufacturers to hire graduating community college students. i did not know any serious opposition so i asked for a vote. what i got was a good hazing, i assume this custom still exists
[applause]. a sr. colleague put the vote on hold to ask could you correctly pronounce your name for me, i'm having trouble with it. obama, i said. is that irish he asked? been in the 30s and a little cocky at the time i said it will be when i run countywide. [laughter] that was a good joke he said, but he was not amuse. this bill was still going to die. he went on to complain that my predecessor's name was easier to pronounce than mine. that i did not have cookies at my desk lay she did. how would i ever expect to get any votes without having any cookies on my desk. i definitely urged no vote he
said, whatever you name us. for the next several minutes the senate debated on whether i should i should add an apostrophe to my name for the irish and the fact that obama ends with the bowel and it blogs with you telling. at just how many trees had to die to print this terrible, miserable bill anyway. if i survive this event, i will be eternally grateful and consider this a highlight of my legal and legislative career. i asked for a vote and initially the board showed that it was going down but at the last minute it slipped and my bill passed. but i was duly reminded that i was a freshman in the minority. i want to thank all of my former colleagues in both chambers for not letting me forget that. to be a rookie in the minority party as i was is not much fun in any legislature. we were called mushrooms.
because we are kept in the dark and fed a lot of money were. [laughter] >> one part of being in such a position not being where the big deals were being made is that i had a lot of time to get to know my colleagues. many of us were away from our families and so we became friends. we went to fish fries together, to union halls, we would play in golf scrambles, we had a great bipartisan poker game at the illinois manufacturers association. we would eat downstairs, i can't say i miss the horse shoes, but away from the glare of the tv,
or the tweets, or the gift of today's media, what we discovered was despite our surface differences, democrats and republicans downstate, hog farmers, inner-city african-americans, business people, latinos, despite those differences we actually had a lot in common. we cared about our communities, we cared about our families, we cared about america. we fought hard for positions, i don't want to be nostalgic here we voted against each other all the time. party lines held most of the time. but those relationships, that that trust that we built meant that we came in at each debate assuming the best in one another and not the worst. i was reminiscing earlier, i
always trusted her and believe she was a good person. if we had a bill that we might be able to work together on it was a pleasure to work with her. we were together on public health and welfare committee, we got some important work done that made a difference in people's lives. we did not college other idiots or fascists who are trying to destroy america. because then we would have to explain why we are playing poker or having a drink with an idiot or fascists. [laughter] that respect give us room for progress. after i served here from six years are party finally became the majority. by then then i had made some friends across the aisle like kurt who is here today and were able to pass this first series reform in five
years. working close with law-enforcement who knew by then that we cared about cops, sheriffs, and prosecutors, working with other folks we passed illinois first racial profiling law which was good for police officers and minority communities. because someone like my friend john bowman who worked at the schriever center helped us build coalitions across the state including with business and was able to then reach out to republicans. we are able to to increase tax credits for the working poor. we expanded health insurance to children in need. we would not bend that are deeply held principles but we are able to compromise in pursuit of a larger goal. we were practical when we needed to be. we could fight like hell on one issue and then shake hands on
the next. someone like jesse white could travel around the state people didn't know a party who is from because he brought so much joy with the work that they were doing. so i want you to know that this is why i have always believe so deeply in a better kind of politics. in part because of what i learned here in this legislature. because what i learned traveling across the state, visiting some of your districts, before i was running statewide, before i was a u.s. senator. learning all of the corners of the state, the most representative of states, state state of small towns in rich farmland and the worlds greatest city. a microcosm of america were democrats, republicans, independents, independents, and good people of every ethnicity in every faith shared certain values.
ice thought a story the other day where you if you rank all 50 states around categories like -- the one state that most closely nears america as a whole is illinois. , the state. i learned by talking to your constituents that if you're willing to listen we can make a difference. i let most americans are not following the ins and outs of the legislator carefully but they instinctively know that issues are more complicated, that they play differently in different parts of the state in the country. they understand the difference between realism and idealism, the difference between responsibility and recklessness.
they have the maturity to know what can and cannot be compromised and to admit the possibility that the other side just might have a point. it convinced me that if we just approached our national politics the same way, the american people approach their daily lives, the workplace, the little little league game, the church, where the synagogue, with common sense and a commitment to fair play, and basic courtesy that there is no problem that we cannot solve together. that was the vision that guided me when i first ran for the united states senate. that is a vision i shared when i said we're more than just a collection of red states and blue states but we are the united states of america. that vision is my nine years ago today, on the steps of the old state capitol just a few blocks from here, i announce my candidacy for president.
over these nine years i want to to know my faith in the generosity and the fundamental goodness of the american people has been rewarded and a for over, and over again. i have seen it in the determination of autoworkers who have been laid off but were sure they could once again be part of a great iconic american industry. i've seen it in the single mom who goes back to school even as she is working and looking after her kids because she wants a better life for the next generation. i've seen it in the vision and risk taking of small business. i've seen it time and again in the courage of our troops. but, it has been noted often by pundits that the tone of our politics has not gotten better since i have been inaugurated, in fact it has gotten worse.
there still is yawning gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics. which is why am i final state of the union address, and in the one before that, i had to acknowledge that one of my few regrets with my inability to reduce the polarization and meanness in our politics. i was able to be part of that here and yet could not translate it where i wanted to in our politics in washington. people ask me why i have devoted so much time to this topic and i tell them it's not just because i'm president and the polarization and gridlock are frustrating to me. the fact is, we have gotten a heck of a lot done these past seven years despite the
gridlock. we save the economy from a depression. we are back and auto industry from the brick of collapse. we helped our business is mrs. create 14,000,000 jobs over the past six years. we cut the on unemployment rate we covered nearly 18 million more americans with health insurance. we united the clean energy revolution. we got bin laden. we brought the vast majority of our troops home tar family [applause]. we got a lot done. we are still getting a lot done. our political system help make these things possible. the list could go on. there is no doubt america is better off today than when i took office.
i care about fixing our politics, not only because i'm president today because some of my initiatives have been blocked by congress, that happens to be president. it happens almost everybody who participates in democracy. you are not going to get 100% of what you want all of the time. the reason it is important for me is year i will still hold the most important title of all. that is the title of citizen. as an american citizen i understand that our progress is not inevitable. our progress has never been inevitable, it must be fought for and won by all of us. with the kind of patriotism that are fed fellow illinois and once described as the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
requires citizenship and a sense that we are one. today that kind of citizenship is threatened by a poisonous political climate that pushes people away from participating in our public life. it turns folks off. it discourages them. it makes them cynical. when that happens more powerful voices fill the void. when that happens, congress stalls. that is how we end up with only a handful of lobbyists setting the agenda, that's how we end up with policies that are detached from what working families face every day. that is how we end up with well-connected that demand the government stay out of their
business but then whisper and it's your for special treatment. that is our political system gets consumed by small things when we are people who are called to do great things. to give everybody a shot in a changing economy. to keep america safe and strong in an uncertain world. to repair our climate before it threatens everything we leave for our kids. that is what is on my mind as i come back to illinois today. this is what will be a focus of mine over the course of this year and beyond. what can we do, all of us together to try to make our politics better? i speak to both sides on this, because all of you know it could be better.
all of you would feel prouder of the work you do if it was better. so first let's put to rest a couple of myths about a politics. one is the myth that the problems with our politics are new. they are not. american politics have never been particularly gentle or high-minded. especially not during times of great change. as i mentioned when i visited a mosque in maryland last week, thomas jefferson's opponent tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a muslim. so, i'm in good company. [laughter] but there is nothing compared to the newspaper which warned that if jefferson were elected, murder, robbery, rape, adultery,
and incest adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced. as vice president essentially killed hamilton in a duel. i do not want to even tell you what andrew jackson's opponent set about his mama. [laughter] lincoln himself was routinely called week, wishy-washy, a yahoo, and on shapely man, the obscene of illinois, and my favorite, a fishy sis pettit fog are, i don't know what that means. but it sounds insulting. so comparatively speaking, today is not that bad as long as you have a thick skin.
as washington once said politics a beanbags. it's tough. that's okay. the also notion that are politics are broken because politicians are significantly more corrupt or hold into big money than they used to be. there is no doubt that lobbyists still have easier access to the halls of power than the average american. there's a lot of work that we need to do to make sure that the system works for ordinary people and not just the well-connected. that is true at the federal level, and at the state level. folks are not entirely wrong when they feel as if the system too often is rigged and does not address their interests. but, relative to the past, i am confident we have enough rules
and checks to prevent anyone in my cabinet from siphoning whiskey tax revenue into their own pockets like president grants administration did. fdr went after -- they controlled politicians as they pleased. it is not as easy as it was to whip up tens of thousands of phantom boats in chicago or in south texas. from the teapot zone to watergate, history tells us we should always be vigilant and demand that our public servants follow the highest ethical standards. the truth is that kind of corruption that is blatant of the sort that we saw in the past is much less likely in today's politics. the justice department and the media work hard to keep it that way. that is a very good thing.
we do not want to romanticize the pass and think somehow a difference in the people being elected and it also is not true that today's issues are inherently more polarizing in the past. remember we endured 40 years of civil war, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dead americans. this this country was divided on its fundamental question. before pearl harbor, entering into into world war ii was highly charged debate. the faultlines of vietnam, the culture wars of the 60s, they still echo into our politics a half-century later. we have been arguing since our founding over the proper size and role of government. the meaning of individual freedom and equality, over war and peace, the best way to give all of our citizens opportunity, and these these are important debates that everybody should join, with all of the rigor that a free people employ. my point
is the problem is not that politicians are worse, the problem is not that issues are tougher, so it is important for us to understand that the situation we find ourselves in today's not somehow unique or hopeless. we have always gone through periods when our democracy seems stuck and when that happens we have to find a new way of doing business. we are in one of those moments. we have to build a better politics. one that is less of a spectacle and battle of ideas. one that is is less of a business and more of a mission. one that understands the success of the american experiment rest our willingness to engage all of our citizens in this world.
that starts and we do have a problem and we all know it. what is different today is the nature and the extent of the polarization. how ideologically divided the parties are. it is brought about by some of the long-term trends in our politics and our culture. the parties themselves have become more homogeneous than ever. a great sorting has taken place throwing southern conservatives out of the democratic party and northern republicans out. you don't have it as much diversity. you have a fractured media. some folks watch fox news, some folks read the huffington post, and very often what is profitable is the most sensational conflict and the most and soundbites.
we don't have a solid basis for what is true and what is not. if i listen to some of these conservative tips i would vote for me either. i sound like a scary guy. you have advocacy groups that sometimes benefit from keeping their members agitated as much as possible. a short of the righteousness of their cause. unlimited dark money, money that nobody knows where it is coming from, who is paying it drowns out ordinary voices. far too many of us surrender our voices entirely by choosing not to vote. this polarization is pervasive and it seeks -- it seeps into
our society. some of us don't want our kids dating. but some don't want them dating someone in the other political party. this is not just an abstract problem for political scientists, this this has real impact on whether not we can get things done together. it has a real impact on whether families are able to support themselves or whether the homeless are getting shelter on a cold day. it makes a difference to the quality of the education that kids are getting. it's not an abstraction. so often these debates particularly in washington, but increasingly in state legislator become abstract. there are no people involved, it's just cardboard cutouts and
characters. it encourages the kind of ideological that rejects any compromise as a form of weakness. in a big complicated democracy like ours, if we can't compromise by definition we cannot govern ourselves. i am a progressive democrat, i am proud proud of that, i make no bones about it [applause]. i believe that people should have access to healthcare, i believe they should have access to a good public education. i believe workers deserve a higher minimum wage. i wage. i believe collective bargaining is critical to the middle class [applause]. hold on a second, i appreciate
that but i want to make a larger point. i believe we are judged by how we care for the poor. i believe that in order to live up to our ideals we have to continue to fight discrimination in all of its forms. [applause]. i believe in science and the science behind things like climate change and that his transition to a cleaner source of energy that will help preserve the planet for future generations. i believe in a tough, smart form policy that says america will never hesitate to protect our people and our allies but we should use every element of our
power and never rush to war. those are the are the things i believe. here's the point i want to make. i believe a lot of republicans share many of the same values even though they may disagree with me on the means to achieve them. i think sometimes my republican colleagues make constructive points about outdated regulations that may need to be changed or programs that even the well intended did not always work the way they were supposed to. and where i have an opportunity to find some common ground that does not make me a sellout to mild party [applause]. well we will talk later. [laughter]
[applause]. [applause]. this is what happens, everybody starts cherry pick and. [laughter] one thing i have learned is some folks don't change. [laughter] so trying to find common ground doesn't make me less of a democrat are less of a progressive, it means means i'm trying to get stuff done. the same applies to republicans who, have them for bid might agree with me on a particular issue. or if i said america's great and
decided to stander in the state of the union. it's not a controversial proposition. inaccurate to get in trouble. but the fact that that is hard to do, that is a testament to how difficult our politicians have become. folks are worried, i'm going to get yelled at or this bloggers can write that for this talkshow host is going to talk about me and i have to challenger were calling me a rhino, not a real progressive. so when i hear voices from either party post about their refusal to compromise is an accomplishment in and of itself, i am not impressed. all that does is prevent what most americans would consider
actual accomplishments like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe [applause]. [applause]. it goes both ways. see now everybody is standing. this is fascinating to watch. [laughter] the point is it cuts both ways. our founders talk about the keys of self-government. our politics is a place where we
try to make this incredible machinery work. where we come together to settle our differences and solve big problems, do big things together that we could not possibly do alone. our founders anchored on this in a visionary constitution that separates power and demands compromise. precisely to prevent one party or one wing of the party, or one faction, or some powerful interests from getting 100% of its way. when either side makes blanket promises to their base that it cannot possibly make, tax cuts without cuts of services, everything will be fine but we will not spend any money, war
without shared sacrifice, we going to be tough but don't worry it will be fine. union bashing or corporate bashing without acknowledging both workers and businesses make our economy run, that kind of politics means that the supporters will be disappointed. it only adds to the sense that the system is rigged. it is one of the reasons we see these big elect oriole swings every few years. it's why people are so cynical. i don't pretend to have all the answers to this. these these trends will not change overnight. if i did, i would have already done them through executive action.
[laughter] that was just a joke. [laughter] a sense of humor is also helpful. [laughter] but i do want to offer some steps that we can take that i believe would help reformer institutions and move our system in a way that helps reflect our better selves. these are not particularly original but i just want to mention them. first, is to take or at least reduce some of the corrosive influence of money in our politics [applause]. this year, just over 150 families, 150 families have spent as much on the presidential race as the rest of america combined. today, couple of billionaires in
one state can push their agenda dumped dark money in every state, no one knows where it's coming from, mostly used on these dark ads in the worst pitcher possible. there's some ominous voice talking about how they're destroying the country. they spend this money based on some ideological preference that is really disconnected to the reality of how people live. they're not concerned about that particular of what is happening in a union hall in healdsburg and what folks are going through to try to find a job. they're not particularly familiar with what is happening at a post -- somebody's phone is on. in carbondale, they have not
heard personally from farmers outside and what they are going. those are devices that should be outweighing a handful of folks with a lot of money. i'm not saying folks with a lot of money should have no voice, and say they should not be able to drowned out everybody else's. that is why i disagree with the supreme court's citizens united decision [applause]. i don't believe that money is speech. or political spending should have no limits. or that it should not be disclosed. i still support a constitutional amendment to set reasonable limits on financial influence in america's election. amending the constitution is an extremely challenging and time-consuming process, as it
should be. we are going to have to come up with more immediate ways to reduce the influence of money and politics. a lot of good proposals out there and we have to work to find one that can gain some bipartisan support. because a handful of families and hidden interest should not be able to bankroll elections in the greatest democracy on earth. second step towards a better politics is rethinking the way we draw our congressional districts [applause]. let me point this out [applause]. i want to point this out, this tends to be popular in states where democrats have been drawing the lines among republicans and less popular
among republicans where they control the line. [applause]. let's be very clear, no no one has clean hands on this thing. no one has clean hands on this thing. the fact is, today technology allows politics and power to draw so opposition supporters are packed into his few districts as possible. that's wire why her districts are shaped like earmuffs or spaghetti, it's also how one party can get more seats even when it gets fewer votes. while this may insulate some accompanists from a serious challenge from another party, it also means the main think those in covenants are worried about art challenges from the most extreme voices in their own party. that is what is happening in congress. if you wonder why congress doesn't work? the house of representatives
there may be a handful, less than 10% of districts that are even competitive at this point. if you're republican all you are worried about is what somebody to your right to saying about you. because you knew you are not going to use it lose a general election. the same is true for a lot of democrats. our. our debates move away from the battle where most americans are towards the far ends of the spectrum. that polarizes us further. this is something we have the power to fix. once the next census rolls around and we have the most up-to-date pictures of america's population, we should change the way our districts are drawn. in america politician should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians. this needs to be done across the nation, not just in a select few states. , it should be done everywhere.
[applause]. the more americans use their voice and participate the less captive our politics will be to narrow constituencies, no matter how much undisclosed money is spent, no matter how many negative ads are run. if everybody voted at a far larger number of people voted, that would overcome in many ways some of the other institutional barriers. it would make our politics better. that is why third step toward better politics is making voting easier, not harder [applause]. modernizing it for the way we live now. [applause].
this should not be controversial. like the redistricting thing but not very people vote, i should get some applause on that too [applause]. a few years ago i set up a bipartisan to look at the voting in america. it had the election lawyers for my campaign and from mitt romney's campaign. they got together outside of the context of immediate politics. i actually want to think this assembly to moving to adopt some of its recommendations. thanks to the good work of my dear friend senator don, there's a new law going into effect that will allow illinois to register and vote at the polls on election day [applause]. it expands early voting, something that makes it a lot easier for working folks and busy parents to go vote. think about it, if you're single mom and you have to take public transportation to punch a clock
or get home, kick dinner, on a tuesday in bad weather? that's tough. why would we want to make it so she couldn't do do it on a saturday or sunday. [applause]. how is that advancing our democracy? so this fall will make a difference. i'm proud of my own state for helping to lead the way. we know this works. in 2,122,014 list dates with the highest voter turnout all had same day registrations. so today i ask every state to join us, reduce these barriers to voting, make it easier for your constituents to get out of vote. i would encourage this assembly to take the next step, senator and representative would make it
so every citizen has the right to vote when they register for a drivers license. that would affect everybody, folks with with disabilities, seniors, men and women of our military, they would make sure that it was easier for them to vote and have their vote counted. as one of your constituents, i think you should pass that legislation right away [applause]. i think the governor should sign it without delay. let's make the land of lincoln leader in voter participation, that's participation, that something we should be proud to do [applause]. let's set the pace. encourage other states across the country to follow are the. making automatic voter registration a new norm across america. during the course of this talk,
it has been interesting to watch the dynamics, obviously. in part because so much of our politics now is designed for short-term tactical game. if you think having more voters will hurt you on election day and suddenly you are not interested in participation. if you think that it is helping you than hurting you, then you're not for those proposals. we get trapped in these things, we know better. if we are setting up federal rules a head of time and you did not know where you stood, which party you are going to be in, you did have all of the data and the poll numbers to tell you what is going to give you an edge or not, you would set up a system that was fair.
you would encourage everybody to be part of it. that is what we learned in our civics books. that is how it should work. the fact that we cannot do that brings me to my last point. even as we change the way the system works we also have a responsibility to change the way we, as elected elected officials and as citizens work together. this democracy only works we get both right, when the system is fair but also when we built a culture that is trying to make it work. recently i have been thinking a lot about something a friend of mine once said to his constituents when he was governor of massachusetts. he said, insist from us and from each other a modicum of civility as the condition for serving you. that's what he told voters.
expectations and makes me mindful. end to the people's expectations. economic for were default we do is tear each other down and the political incentives to often rewards that behavior and gets attention. initiative but in this environment we have to insist to do better from each other in for each other rather than reward those to disenfranchise any segment of america. to arm themselves with information if 99 percent of those voted it doesn't matter how much they spend on the election.
[applause] rather then we were the most extreme voices or who is best data launching schoolyard punches but the discourse of our life based on the the the and respect that does not mean you didn't principles or that you're not tough. rather then paint them as motivated by malice, to suggest any of us like patriotism we can insist their fellow americans are
not only entitled but they love the country as much as you. rather than reward 24/7 media that drives conflict we have to stand up and insist that the facts matter in issues are complicated if things are made up they cannot be a challenge. bin that is true for democrats if they make something up or a republican if they cross the line. rather then except the notion of a sellout a kid be a genuine victory. rather than preventing our kids from playing people
from other parties and they had issues invalidating generally. [laughter] but we raise them to do the right thing not with some label attached. in in most of all once led begins to grow skin took -- cynical we have to insist that they came in make a difference in this job of being a citizen of united states of america is a big deal. something we should revere it to take seriously. and abraham lincoln was a delay is the giant that we think of today. his businesses in his law practice often struggled after just one term in
congress the mexican-american war damage his reputation is so badly he did not run for reelection and was denounced as a traitor and a demagogue , and enemy sympathizer and he returned to his law practice and admitted he was losing interest in politics at the time. and then something happened that shuck his conscious -- conscience. day overture the missouri compromise - - compromise that left the question unsettled and stunned by a vet did is he said he was roused as he had never been before what that meant for america's future.
so here in in springfield with the state fair he got back in the game and deliver the first of his great anti-slavery speeches and over the next six years even though he lost two more races his arguments with douglas shaped the national debate that is wind he uttered those brilliant words as a house divided against itself cannot stand. this government cannot endure. he became the first republican president, i believe our greatest president through his words and will command character to hold the nation together.
and those victories do not solve all of our problems with the compromises we were prepared to make. it would be 100 years more until the guaranteed equal rights to african-americans. but because he made the decision not to give up not let other voices speak for him any whole district the principles and division in the ability and to show the respect because of a let he
set in motion they have had the chance to choose. what a great gift. what a great legacy. data is the thing about america. we are a constant work of progress. and our success has never been certain or preordained and there is always the gap with that reality we witness every single day but lung excess exceptional is we reform systems and watch movements to close the gap embracing the promise into closer alignment.