President Obama patted himself on the back and thanked his supporters in his final address Tuesday night, while calling on Americans to "forge a new social compact" in the era of his Republican successor.
"Every day I have learned from you," the outgoing president told Americans from a crowded auditorium in the Windy City. "You made me a better president. You made me a better man."
Standing before his wife Michelle and daughter Malia, Obama urged Americans to "pay attention and listen" to each other rather than retreat into "bubbles [where] we start accepting only information that fits our opinions."
"For white Americans, this means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn't suddenly vanish in the 1960s," he said.
Obama spent several moments in the nearly hour-long speech highlighting accomplishments of his administration that he insists have moved the country forward.
"If I had told you eight years that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history... that we would open a new chapter with the Cuban people… shut down Iran's nuclear program without firing a shot…. win the fight for marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for 20 million citizens… you would have said our sights were set a little too high," he said.
At the same time, he urged supporters of his to continue his legacy by taking action on their own.
"If something need fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you're disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself," the president said.
"Show up, dive in and stay at it," Obama added. "Your faith in America and in Americans will be confirmed."
For the most part, the substance of Obama's address was similar to the farewell speeches of his predecessors. The outgoing president took the stage eager to defend his record and look back on his eight years in office with pride.
But the 44th president broke with tradition by returning to the location of his re-election celebration and turning his final goodbye into a celebration of his legacy before thousands of supporters. With the exception of George H.W. Bush, who in 1993 delivered his farewell from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, each president since Reagan has said goodbye to the country during a modest speech from within the White House walls.
In many ways, the lead-up to Obama's speech was symptomatic of why the U.S. remains so divided.
Critics of the current administration warned Americans not to take the president's self-congratulatory claims at face value — arguing that Obama will leave the nation weaker than he found it — while his loyal backers peddled a drastically different view.
In their eyes, race relations improved tenfold under the first black president's leadership, wages and the labor-force participation rate increased, and issues like climate change, sexual assault and income inequality received serious attention on the national stage. They credit him with preventing a second Great Depression, enabling 20 million Americans to gain healthcare coverage and ending antiquated policies like travel and financial restrictions on Cuba.
"We've run our leg in a long relay of progress, knowing that our work will always be unfinished," Obama wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post hours before his speech. "And we've reaffirmed the belief that we can make a difference with our own hands, in our own time."
The outgoing Democratic president did not touch on post-presidency plans in his speech. However, the first family's recent purchase of a home in Washington's affluent Kalorama neighborhood suggests he will remain close to the action for years to come.
"I promise you that next year Michelle and I are going to be right there with you, and the clouds are going to start parting and the sun is going to come back out, and we're going to be busy, involved in the amazing stuff that we've been doing all these years before," Obama told downtrodden Democrats just weeks before Tuesday night.
This time, he asked those who fear what's next to come to fight for change with him rather than relying on him to pave the way.
"I am asking you to believe not just in my ability to bring about change but in yours," Obama said. "Yes, we can. Yes, we did."