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As the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African-American to hold the highest office in the land. He served two terms and remained significant even after his presidency ended.
Many consider Obama as amongst the greatest political orators in American history, and although not everyone agrees with his political inclinations or actions, no one can deny his talent in public speaking. His speeches usually provide memorable nuggets of wisdom.
How did the former president become so good with words? What helped him become such an incredible leader? Let’s look back at all the sterling achievements that led him to the White House.
Barack Obama—a look back
Born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the first U.S.A. president born outside the contiguous 48 states, Barack Obama came from humble beginnings.
His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was American of European descent. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was from Kenya. The two eventually got divorced. Obama Sr. moved back to Kenya where he served as a Senior Economic Analyst for the Kenyan government.
He remarried and only managed to visit Barack once (in 1971) before dying in an automobile accident. Obama’s mother got married again as well. She married Indonesian Lolo Soetero, and the family lived in Indonesia for several years.
Barack attributes his understanding of various cultures to his multicultural and multiracial childhood—his parents’ roots, living in Hawaii, and his time in Indonesia. All of these helped give him a better understanding of different types of peoples and cultures.
Throughout his youth, Obama focused on his studies and played basketball whenever he could. With his hard work, he earned a full scholarship from Harvard University and became the first black president of the university’s Law Review. After graduating, he moved to New York as a journalist.
Barack’s political career started in Chicago where we worked as a community organizer and penned a critically acclaimed memoir, “Dreams from My Father”.
He served as the Illinois State Senator from 1997 to 2004, before being elected as a U.S. Senator. It wasn’t long before he set his sights higher. In 2009, he was sworn in as the very first African American President of the United States, following a poignant and historic campaign.
Elected twice, Obama’s presidency ran from 2009 and 2017, and paved the way for landmark legislations and a highly improved global and international reputation. His leadership, for the most part, was venerable and scandal-free.
The Obama Legacy
While he was not without detractors, as with all presidents, Barack Obama, on the whole, remains to be a well-respected world leader who understood the importance of bringing people together and opening doors of possibilities.
From his numerous campaign speeches, State of the Union addresses, and laugh-inducing Correspondents’ Dinner speeches, Obama has inspired millions with his smart and compassionate rhetoric. He understood the power of the spoken word and demonstrated his mastery of speech and language numerous times in the spotlight.
If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the wise words of Barack Obama.
Barack Obama Quotes
1. “My attitude about something like the presidency is that you don’t want to just be the president. You want to change the country. You want to make a unique contribution. You want to be a great president.”
2. “This country is ready for a transformative politics of the sort that John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt represented.”
3. “I don’t know exactly what makes somebody ready to be president. It’s not clear that JFK was ‘ready’ to be president, it’s not clear that Harry Truman, when he was elevated, was ‘ready,’ and yet, somehow, some people respond and some people don’t. My instinct is that people who are ready are folks who go into it understanding the gravity of their work, and are able to combine vision and judgment.”
4. “Well, there are a lot of things I think I can accomplish, but two things I know. The first is, when I raise my hand and take that oath of office, there are millions of kids around this country who don’t believe that it would ever be possible for them to be president of the United States. And for them, the world would change on that day. And the second thing is, I think the world would look at us differently the day I got elected, because it would be a reaffirmation of what America is, about the constant perfecting of who we are. I think I can help repair the damage that’s been done.”
5. “Too many times, after the election is over and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.”
6. “I’m running for president because the time for the can’t-do, won’t-do, won’t-even-try style of politics is over. It’s time to turn the page.”
7. “I think that I have the capacity to get people to recognize themselves in each other.”
8. “I actually believe my own rhetoric.”
9. “Once I’m done, then I’ll look back and see what the legacy is.”
10. “I do have confidence that we’re gonna be able to get it right. But it’s not gonna be overnight.”
11. “I always felt that a president is accountable for making the best decisions, but that there are going to be a lot of unexpected twists and turns along the way. And as I said recently, this is still a human enterprise and these are big, tough, complicated problems. Somebody noted to me that by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard. Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision and somebody else would have solved it.”
12. “I do think in Washington it’s a little bit like American Idol, except everybody is Simon Cowell. Everybody’s got an opinion.”
13. “And, you know, obviously, at the inauguration I think that there was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination in this country. But that lasted about a day.”
14. “Well, I had a habit of praying every night, before I go to bed. I pray all the time now. Because I’ve got a lot of stuff on my plate and I need guidance all the time.”
15. “Look, you know, when you’re in this job, I think, uh—every president who’s had it is constantly humbled by the degree to which there are a lot of issues out there, and the notion that one person alone can solve all these problems—I think you’re cured of that illusion very quickly.”
16. “After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, ‘Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s birthday!’ And then Sasha added, ‘Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.’ So it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.”
17. “I don’t think anything prepares you for the presidency.”
18. “Exercise every day. Seeing my family. Keeping things in perspective. Reading history. Reminding yourself that this is a long-term proposition and you’re not going to get everything exactly right, but hopefully, if you’re moving things in the right trajectory, that things usually work out.”
19. “The worst thing about being president is all the noise, all the political games—you know, it can be like a hall of mirrors, where just a few people are talking to each other and never breaking out of it. And Michelle is very good at making me focus not on the immediate orbit that we’re in but what’s going on outside of it.”
20. “Let’s be clear here. Seven presidents have tried to reform a health care system that everyone acknowledges is broken. Seven presidents have failed up until this point.”
21. “You know, we live in history. And it’s complicated. And things aren’t always, you know, completely clean.”
22. “You know, this is a town where once a screw-up happens, people can’t just say, ‘OK, that was a screw-up and let’s fix it.’ There has to be, you know, two weeks’ worth of cable chatter about it.”
23. “There’s got to be a sense sometimes that we’re willing to rise above our particular interests, our particular ideas, in order to get things done. Right now, that culture has, I think, broken down over the last several years, and one of my jobs over the next three years is to try to see if we can revive that.”
24. “The one thing I’m clear about is that I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. And I—and I believe that.”
25. “When your poll numbers drop, you’re an idiot. When your poll numbers are high, you’re a genius. If my poll numbers are low, then I’m cool and cerebral and cold and detached. If my poll numbers are high, well, ‘He’s calm and reasoned.’”
26. “My point is the easiest thing to do in politics is to point fingers, to figure out who to blame for something, or to make people afraid of things. That’s the easiest way to get attention. That’s what reporters will report on. You call somebody a name, you say, ‘Look what a terrible thing they’ve done, and they’re going to do more terrible things to you if you don’t watch out.’”
27. “Let’s acknowledge that democracy has always been messy. Let’s not be overly nostalgic.”
28. “We—I’ve got a whole bunch of portraits of presidents around here, starting with Teddy Roosevelt, who tried to do [health care reform] and didn’t get it done. The reason that it needs to be done is not its effect on the presidency. It has to do with how it’s going to affect ordinary people who right now are desperately in need of help.”
29. “People don’t progress in a straight line. Countries don’t progress in a straight line.”
30. “As I’ve found out after a year in the White House, changing this type of slash-and-burn politics isn’t easy.”
31. “I also have the shortest commute of anybody I know. And that makes a huge difference because it means no matter how long I’m working any given day I can always go upstairs to see my wife and kids. And that’s something I probably appreciate more than anything else about being here in the White House.”
32. “You know, the Lincoln Bedroom, I don’t go into much, except when there are visitors. Every once in a while, I’ll sneak in, just to reread the Gettysburg Address.”
33. “As long as I stay focused on those north stars, then I tend not to get too rattled.”
34. “You know, look, our political life is like our individual lives. There are ups and downs. There are peaks and valleys.”
35. “I make no apologies for having set high expectations for myself and for the country, because I think we can meet those expectations. Now, the one thing that I will say—which I anticipated and can be tough—is the fact that in a big, messy democracy like this, everything takes time. And we’re not a culture that’s built on patience.”
36. “What I found during the course of the presidency, and I suppose this is true in life, is that investments and work that you make back here sometimes take a little longer than the 24-hour news cycle to bear fruit.”
37. “I am president, I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.”
38. “My attitude is, if we’re makin’ progress, step by step, inch by inch, day by day, that we are being true to the spirit of that campaign.”
39. “So, the most important things for me over the last two years, in terms of stress reduction, is the fact that if I’m here in Washington, I’m having dinner at 6:30, just about every night. And sitting around that table, listening to [my kids], and trying to answer their questions, that keeps my bearings.”
40. “As I travel across the country folks often ask me what is it that I pray for. And like most of you, my prayers sometimes are general: ‘Lord, give me the strength to meet the challenges of my office.’ Sometimes they’re specific: ‘Lord, give me patience as I watch Malia go to her first dance—where there will be boys.’ ‘Lord, have that skirt get longer as she travels to that dance.’”
41. “I think that when you’re president of the United States, it comes with the territory that folks are going to criticize you. That’s what I signed up for.”
42. “No wonder I have got more gray hair now.”
43. “As long as I’m president, I’m gonna be held responsible, in some fashion, to fix the problem.”
44. “I’ve been around this track now for a while.”
45. “You know, there was actually a good article written a while back, taking a look at the old press clips from every Democratic president, dating back to Franklin Roosevelt, including Roosevelt. And, you know, nobody was happy with them. Nobody was happy with them. You know? Bill Clinton, who’s beloved by the Democratic Party, at this point—and I consider to be an extraordinarily successful president—you look at his old press clippings, he was getting beat up with some of the same stuff I was getting beat up with.”
46. “Gotta keep moving.”
47. “I didn’t overpromise. And I didn’t underestimate how tough this was gonna be. I always believed that this was a long-term project; this wasn’t a short-term project.”
48. “The one thing I’ve prided myself on before I was president—and it turns out that continues to be true as president—I’m a persistent son of a gun. I just stay at it. And I’m just gonna keep on staying at it as long as I’m in this office.”
49. “I’ve got five more years of stuff to do.”
50. “There’s nothing more humbling, actually, than being president. It’s a strange thing. Suddenly, you’ve got all the pomp and the circumstance and you’ve got the helicopters and you’ve got the Air Force One and—and the plane is really nice. It really is. I mean, Bill may not miss being president, but he misses that plane. Let’s face it, he does. It’s a great plane. And I’ll miss it, too.”
51. “That’s one of the hardest things in politics to convince people of: to make investments today that don’t pay off until many years from now.”
52. “The gridlock you see in Washington does not exist out in neighborhoods and cities and towns across the country. If I go to Malia’s or Sasha’s soccer game and I’m standing there with a bunch of parents, I don’t know whether or not they’re Democrats or Republicans, and most of them have the same concerns and the same values.”
53. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
54. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
55. “I played a lot of sports when I was a kid, and still do. If you have a bad game, you just move on. You look forward to the next one. And it makes you that much more determined.”
56. “So we’ve made real progress these past four years. But … we know our work’s not done yet. … And that’s why I’m running for a second term as president. Because we’ve got more work to do.”
57. “The biggest challenge we’ve always had is that unlike FDR—who came into office when the economy had already bottomed out, so people understood that everything done subsequent to his election was making things better—I came in just as we were sliding.”
58. “I think that being in this office has made me even more appreciative of my family in ways that I didn’t think I could be. I already loved them so much, but when you’re under all these pressures, to come home every single night—at least when I’m in town—and have Michelle and the girls there, and draw joy from them … they are my balance and they keep me grounded, and that’s truer now than it’s ever been.”
59. “Do I wish that things were more orderly in Washington, and rational, and people listened to the best arguments and compromised and operated in a more thoughtful and organized fashion? Absolutely. But when you look at history, that’s been the exception rather than the norm.”
60. “There are all sorts of lessons to be learned both from past presidents and my own first term. I’ve said this before, but one of the things that happened in the first term was that we had so many fires going on at the same time that we were focusing on policy and getting it right, which means that we were spending less time communicating with the American people about why we were doing what we were doing and how it tied together with our overarching desire of strengthening our middle class and making the economy work.”
61. “And a big chunk of my day is occupied by news of war, terrorism, ethnic clashes, violence done to innocents.”
62. “I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations.”
63. “One of the things that you find is when you’re in this job, you think about it differently than when you’re just running for the job.”
64. “You know, there are transitions and transformations taking place all around the world. We are not going to be able to control every aspect of every transition and transformation. Sometimes they’re going to go sideways. Sometimes, you know, there’ll be unintended consequences.”
65. “But I do worry sometimes that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast, everything we’ve been talking about the whole time at the prayer breakfast seems to be forgotten—on the same day of the prayer breakfast. I mean, you’d like to think that the shelf life wasn’t so short. But I go back to the Oval Office and I start watching the cable news networks and it’s like we didn’t pray.”
66. “As president, sometimes I have to search for the words to console the inconsolable. Sometimes I search Scripture to determine how best to balance life as a president and as a husband and as a father. I often search for Scripture to figure out how I can be a better man as well as a better president.”
67. “What people really typically want is a clean solution, a silver bullet, here’s what we’re going to do and we just move forward—well, that’s not, unfortunately, how the world works.”
68. “If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me, not just me, will find themselves unable to govern effectively.”
69. “It is not unusual for Democrats and Republicans to disagree. That’s the way the founders designed our government. Democracy’s messy. But when you have a situation in which a faction is willing potentially to default on U.S. government obligations, then we are in trouble.”
70. “Am I exasperated? Absolutely I’m exasperated.”
71. “How business is done in this town has to change.”
72. “Disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can’t degenerate into hatred.”
73. “You know, when Social Security was first passed, people said, ‘This is socialism, this is terrible.’ When Medicare passed, people were fighting it, saying, ‘You’re going to lose, you know, your health care.’ Some of the same arguments that are made about the Affordable Care Act you heard about Social Security, you heard about Medicare. But once you get over that hump and the thing starts rolling, and people become accustomed to it and confident about it, it ends up helping a lot of people and, you know, that’s just the nature of social change in this country.”
74. “There have been times where I’ve been constrained by the fact that I had two young daughters who I wanted to spend time with—and that I wasn’t in a position to work the social scene in Washington.”
75. “The only time I get frustrated is when folks act like it’s not complicated and there aren’t some real tough decisions, and are sanctimonious, as if somehow these aren’t complicated questions.”
76. “I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every president, like every person.”
77. “At the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
78. “I try to focus not on the fumbles, but on the next plan.”
79. “I don’t get a chance to take walks very often. Secret Service gets a little stressed. But every once in a while, I’m able to sneak off. I’m sort of like the circus bear that kind of breaks the chain, and I start taking off, and everybody starts whispering, ‘The bear is loose!’”
80. “When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.”