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Obama Preaches 'Better Politics' To Bitterly Partisan Nation In Springfield

By aaroncynic in News on Feb 10, 2016 9:21PM

President Barack Obama waves as he walks out of the residence toward Marine One while departing the White House, on Feb. 10, 2016 on his way to make a speech in Springfield, Illinois. Photo via Getty Images.

Nine years after Barack Obama began his bid for president on the steps of the Old Springfield Capitol Building, he returned to the town where his legislative career began to address both a bitterly divided legislature and nation.

“The tone of our politics hasn’t gotten better, it’s gotten worse,” Obama said in what was a quick-witted, sometimes self-deprecating and even genuinely funny speech that focused on what he called “building better politics.”

“There’s still this yawning gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics,” he said.

The Illinois legislature has been bitterly divided over how to proceed economically as the state is now in its eighth month without a budget. Meanwhile, the rhetoric continues to ramp up past ear-splitting levels in the race for who will take Obama’s place as president next year. While the president didn’t address the Illinois budget impasse directly, he did take aim at the war of words between Republicans and Democrats nationwide, saying the deepening divide has created a “poisonous political climate that pushes people away from participating.”

The tone of Obama’s speech to the Illinois General Assemly wasn’t exactly a scolding, but more a lamentation of the polarized nature of current American politics coupled with a hopeful sentiment that Americans can and should be encouraged to do better. In what one should assume will be many speeches in the coming months reflecting on his legacy as President, Obama said he cared about repairing things for the future.

“I care about fixing our politics not just because I’m president today, but because next year I’ll still hold the most important title of all - an American citizen.”

The president was almost wistful at times recalling his time as an Illinois legislator.

"I don’t want to be nostalgic here. We voted against each other all the time...but those relationships, that trust we built meant that we came at each debate assuming the best about each other, not the worst,” he said. But he also acknowledged and even apologized he wasn’t able to curb much of the mudslinging that have become a signature of American politics. If anything, a lot of Obama’s criticisms in 2016 were similar to those in 2007, where he railed against the “smallness of American politics and the “ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial.”

In order to build these “better politics,” Obama said that it was important to curb the influence money has in them, as well as fixing legislative gerrymandering that makes legislative districts “look like earmuffs or spaghetti,” and making voting easier. "I don’t believe that money is speech or that political spending should have no limits," said the president.

Wedging the political gap that’s widened over his years as president will definitely be easier said that done, which was evident during his speech in the legislator. While plenty of cheers went up for re-districting reform, there was a hard silence from part of the room when Obama spoke on voting rights.

“This shouldn’t be controversial,” Obama said, noticing the difference in response. “If you liked redistricting, you should support laws making sure people can vote. I should get some applause on that too.”