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Politics & Government

Former Presidential Adviser Previews Obama's Farewell Address

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama delivers his farewell address tonight. He will speak in Chicago where his political career began. Now he says goodbye after the election of Donald Trump, who vowed to undo much of his legacy. We talked about this moment with a former Obama adviser - Austan Goolsbee.

The president has made a number of statements in recent weeks suggesting that although President-elect Trump has vowed to overturn much of his legacy, that is not as easy as it seems. He expresses confidence that many things will survive. Do you think that the president believes that?

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: I do think the president believes that. I would say I'm a little more nervous about it maybe than the president is.

INSKEEP: Now, in an email to supporters, the president said the speech will aim to celebrate what they achieved with him and, quote, "offer some thoughts on where we all go from here," which is on Goolsbee's mind too.

GOOLSBEE: And I think the moment right now is really somewhat unusual for the farewell address of the president in that you have a successful two-term president followed by someone of a different party that's really quite contradictory in message. And you know Donald Trump ran largely on, well, I'm not Barack Obama, and Barack Obama's basically saying and I'm not Donald Trump, and they both kind of agree with each other on that point. So I think...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) And in some cases - in a few cases, at least, they got the same voters. There are people out there who said I voted for Obama and then for Trump.

GOOLSBEE: Yeah. In some ways, those overlapping voters, in a way, they're one of a special category of audience potentially for this speech. You know, if you ask who is the farewell address intended for, I think there's one instructive thing that President Obama's giving the speech back in Chicago and getting the band back together and a lot of the - trying to rekindle the magic of Grant Park, let's call it - it's not just going to be a televised address from the Oval Office with the - the way it often is.

INSKEEP: He's going back to the Midwest where, we should note, that although Hillary Clinton won Illinois, the election was effectively lost for Hillary Clinton in the Midwest because some Midwestern states didn't go for her that were expected to.

GOOLSBEE: Yeah. And that's quite an interesting dynamic. I would expect, you know, if this farewell address is like all of the previous ones of the last 30 or 40 years, there will be a fair amount of discussion of let's remember in our minds what the economy was like in 2008 and in 2009 when President Obama first got there. And let's make catalogue of all of the various ways that it's gotten better and to try to put people back in that mindset to see that they're had - though it seems frustrating and there's a lot of partisan fighting now, that we have made a lot of progress.

INSKEEP: How do you think about this moment in American history that the president will speak to?

GOOLSBEE: That's a far deeper question than small minds like mine are to analyze.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOOLSBEE: But you know, I think there have been - there are some major tectonic forces at work here. And so I would be very surprised if President Obama did not address, well, what kind of nation is this, and what does it mean that we can be as divided as we seem to be in our politics, and, you know, where should we go, how can we come together?

INSKEEP: Do you have any idea what his answer to that question is?

GOOLSBEE: Well, I don't know what he's going to say in this speech. But for many years and decades, his answer has been we're a diverse country and we're going to have to come together. I think now is a moment where this is like the comic book or something, you know, the president and his bizarro world arch nemesis. They're a reflection of each other in a odd opposite way. So I would be surprised if he did not explicitly address the opposite world view in a way that tries to contrast and say the we all have to get along approach is going to be the better one.

INSKEEP: Austan Goolsbee, thanks very much.

GOOLSBEE: Yeah, Steve, nice talking to you again.

INSKEEP: He's with the University of Chicago and is a former adviser to President Obama. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.