With President Obama's final speech to the nation Tuesday night in Chicago, he faced a unique challenge unlike any modern president that came before him: How to give the milestone farewell address, one that typically touts a president's key achievements and attempts to define his legacy before he leaves office, just as his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is threatened to be undone.
Yet two aspects of his address gave it something in common with what scholars say are among the best farewell speeches of past presidents. Of course, Obama recapped some signature moments and milestones, weaving them through a speech that focused on the ideals of democracy. But he also delivered a warning of sorts about the threats to U.S. democracy at this historic juncture, much as the farewell remarks from George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower struck their own vigilant tone.
Unlike inaugural addresses, which tend to be visionary and future-oriented, or State of the Union remarks, which lay out a policy agenda, farewell addresses typically don't garner the attention of other key presidential speeches. Some presidents make their final remarks as part of their last State of the Union, while others, said University of Pennsylvania communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, offer several speeches toward the end of their presidency about a single topic of importance.Read More