Obama visits UChicago for live taping of The Axe Files

Former President Barack Obama returned to his academic roots on Tuesday, visiting the University of Chicago campus where he spent 12 years, and the neighborhood where his life last held some semblance of normalcy.

During a live taping of “The Axe Files” with David Axelrod, director of UChicago’s Institute of Politics, Obama engaged in a wide-ranging conversation that touched not only on the state of American politics, but also the biggest regrets of his presidency and the sacrifices his family made along the way.

Before nearly 500 students at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Obama reflected on his time in Chicago, where he and Michelle Obama bought their first house and began raising their daughters. The simple pleasures the former Law School scholar took in life back then, he said, disappeared upon his historic election as president in 2008.

“You feel launched into space,” Obama said. “You don’t fully recover what you had before. I think the thing that you miss is anonymity. You don’t realize the value of anonymity until you don’t have it.

“The way that manifests itself is simply, you can’t take a walk. That’s what I miss most: Taking a walk.”

Axelrod, AB’76, served as chief strategist and senior adviser to the president. He founded the Institute of Politics in 2013 to ignite in young people a passion for politics and public service. He launched “The Axe Files” podcast in September 2015, and since then, has released over 280 episodes, including interviews with key figures in the political world and beyond, including Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi, Jon Stewart, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John McCain and Justin Trudeau.

His rapport with Obama made for a conversation that felt accessible to a broad audience.

“It was a more casual back-and-forth setting,” said Sachit Agrawal, a first-year in the College. “It gave a different perspective.”

Obama’s visit to campus was his third in recent years and continues his considerable connection to UChicago—from teaching at the Law School for more than a decade to the launch earlier this year of the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at the Harris School of Public Policy. Many of those scholars were in attendance during Tuesday’s taping, giving Obama an opportunity to point out how “constantly amazed” he was by the amount of young talented people he sees in the world.

Olivia Carneiro, a Pearson Institute fellow and an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy, was struck by how Obama highlighted mass shootings and the lack of gun control legislation as the biggest regret from his presidency.

“For me, a foreigner,” said the Brazil native, “it’s good to reflect on how it works here and how it could work in my country.”

Obama also waded into the current political landscape. Prodded by Axelrod, Obama acknowledged that while he and President Trump do not share the same vision for the United States, he still believed that a majority of Americans want a country that aspires to be a “multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious pluralistic democracy.”

When Axelrod asked him about Rep. Nancy Pelosi and her ongoing bid for House Speaker, Obama turned his defense of the congresswoman into an argument for substance over flash.

“We have a tendency in our politics in this country to put a premium on performance art,” Obama said. “Can they give a fancy speech? Are they quick and cool on some YouTube video? How’s their banter on the late-night talk shows?

“But I tell you: A lot of the work of governing is not flashy. It is nuts and bolts, and it is a grind, and it is hard.”

The conversation between Obama and Axelrod has been posted on the Axe Files website. Read more about President Obama’s connections to the University below:

Obama announces program for emerging leaders

The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago on Feb. 28 announced the Obama Foundation Scholars Program, a new program at the Harris School of Public Policy to support the next generation of leaders making an impact on issues in their communities and around the world.

Students in the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Harris will pursue a master’s degree with an emphasis on international development and policy. Students also will participate in a range of leadership activities outside the classroom led by the Obama Foundation. Some of these foundation activities will include experiences throughout Chicago and the South Side. By engaging with the local community, students will have the opportunity to complement what they learn in the classroom and also to bring their unique perspectives to Chicago.

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Obama talks with students at first public event since presidency

Former President Barack Obama returned to the University of Chicago on April 24, 2017 to discuss a key priority for his time after the White House—helping to inspire and prepare the next generation of civic leaders.

The former president gathered on stage at UChicago’s Reva and David Logan Center with students from around Chicago for his first public event since ending his second term. In a wide-ranging conversation, Obama talked about his own introduction to public service as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side and asked students from schools including UChicago and Kenwood Academy about their own involvement in civic engagement and how to create new ways for their peers to participate.

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Obama recalls his time at Law School

President Barack Obama returned to his academic roots at the Law School on April 7, 2016 to make the case for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in a wide-ranging, emphatic, and at times professorial conversation with law students, faculty, and other attendees.

Describing Garland as “an eminently qualified jurist,” Obama told the crowd in the Law School’s Harold J. Green Lounge that if the Senate does not give such nominees a hearing it would mean that partisan polarization is “seeping entirely into the judicial system” and threatening the integrity of the judicial branch. “At that point, people lose confidence in the courts … and our democracy cannot afford that,” Obama said.

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