A President Returns

After two terms as President of the United States, Barack Obama Returns to the building he once called his political home to address the Illinois General Assembly during the budget crisis.


Jeff Roberson/AP

Obama spoke in Springfield on February 10th.

Bailey Rueff

On Wednesday, February 10, President Barack Obama returned to the Illinois Capitol for the first time since his election in 2008 to discuss the budget impasse in the Illinois General Assembly. This bitterly cold day was not unlike that of the day he launched his candidacy for the 2008 Presidential Race on the Old State Capitol steps, exactly nine years ago to the day. The speech spoke of the stark polarization in Springfield while also alluding to the specific standoff between Governor Rauner, House Speaker Madigan, and Senate President Cullerton.

The President and his impressive motorcade of 24 vehicles arrived promptly at the Capitol at noon, but not before stopping at The Feed Store, a local restaurant he frequented during his time in the Illinois Senate.

We’ve always gone through periods when our democracy seems stuck…”

— President Obama

President Obama mentioned that his inability to restore cooperation on both sides of the aisle is one of the biggest failures during his two terms. However, he also reminisced that his time in the Illinois Senate, “We were willing to forge compromise.”

“The situation we find ourselves in today is not somehow unique or hopeless,” he said, speaking in the current Capitol, where he began his political career in 1997 as a state senator from Chicago’s South Side. “We’ve always gone through periods when our democracy seems stuck, and when that happens, we have to find a new way of doing business. We’re in one of those moments. We’ve got to build a better politics, one that’s less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas, one that’s less of a business and more of a mission, one that understands the success of the American experiment rests on our willingness to engage all our citizens in this work.”

Although Representative Adam Brown of the 102nd House district referred to President Obama’s address as a nice gesture and show of support, he does not think it will help the Illinois General Assembly in establishing a budget. Another critic of the President’s speech is U.S. Representative Peter J. Roskam, who served alongside Obama in the state senate from 2000-2004. Roskam released the following statement, “It’s not surprising the President doesn’t recognize the clarity of leadership Governor Rauner is trying to bring to our state. Speaker Madigan and Illinois Democrats have turned our state into a fiscal basket case. Grandiose speeches may help President Obama frame his legacy but they won’t help our state climb out of the hole his party has been digging for decades.”

The President ended his remarks with a heartfelt sentiment, saying, “… that’s the thing about America.  We are a constant work of progress.  And our success has never been certain, none of our journey has been preordained.  And there’s always been a gap between our highest ideals and the reality that we witness every single day.  But what makes us exceptional — what makes us Americans — is that we have fought wars, and passed laws, and reformed systems, and organized unions, and staged protests, and launched mighty movements to close that gap, and to bring the promise and the practice of America into closer alignment.  We’ve made the effort to form that ‘more perfect union’.”

After finishing his hour long address, President Obama spent some time personally shaking hands and speaking with legislatures on both sides of the aisle, talking to old friends, and meeting the members of the Illinois General Assembly.

Though there appears to be a consensus that that the visit was merely a gesture.  It will only be a matter of time before there is any indication that his visit was successful in bringing our states General Assembly together in agreement regarding our fiscal budget.

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