Can we, did we? How Obama's inauguration speeches tally with his farewell one

Three speeches later, what exactly did Barack Obama do during his two terms in office?

Can we, did we? How Obama's inauguration speeches tally with his farewell one

President Barack Obama waves on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, daughter Malia, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden after his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago. | Image: Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP/Press Association Images

Outgoing US President Barack Obama said he is leaving the Oval Office "even more optimistic about this country than I was when I started". But does he have reason to be?

Barack Obama was sworn in as President on January 21st 2009, and again for a second term on January 21st 2013. At both inaugural events, he spoke with unwavering confidence about the strength and unity of the American people and made key promises in areas of marriage equality, environmental issues and immigration.

As America looks more uncertain than ever, we recap on his three speeches on where he delivered and where he failed to.

On the responsibility of American citizens

  • What he said in 2009: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task."
  • What he said in 2013: "You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course [...] You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time - not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals."
  • What he said in 2017: "Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some [...] You were the change.  You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started."

Customers watch the Barack Obama makes his presidential inauguration speech at an electrical store in Chelmsford, Essex. Image: Ian Nicholson/PA Images

On marriage equality:

  • What he said in 2009: Obama made no explicit reference to marriage equality in his first inauguration speech. 
  • What he said in 2013: "We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few [...] Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. "
  • What he said in 2017: "If I had told you that we would win marriage equality [...] you might have said our sights were set a little too high [...] we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem."

Marriage equality supporters stand with signs supporting President Barack Obama outside a fundraising event for the president, Thursday, May 10, 2012, in Seattle. Image: Elaine Thompson AP/Press Association Images

On climate change: 

  • What he said in 2009: "We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories [...] All this we can do. All this we will do."
  • What he said in 2013: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it."
  • What he said in 2017: "In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet.  But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary [...] to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

In this Jan. 26, 2009, file photo, Obama signs an executive order on energy independence and climate change in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Image: Ron Edmonds AP/Press Association Images

On immigration, radicalism and Muslim America

  • What he said in 2009: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."
  • What he said in 2013: "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity [...] We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom."
  • What he said in 2017: "Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement, and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe. We, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are [...] That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans."

President Barack Obama walks back down the Cross Hall after making a televised statement on the death of Osama bin Laden from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, May 1, 2011. Image: Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP/Press Association Images

On the economy

  • What he said in 2009: "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered."
  • What he said in 2013: "We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own."
  • What he said in 2017: "If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history [...] You might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change."


In this Feb. 9, 2009, file photo President Barack Obama holds a town hall style meeting in support of the economic stimulus package in Elkhart, Ind. Image: Charles Dharapak AP/Press Association Images