Barack Obama, Nobel Prize
Barack Obama receives the Nobel Peace Prize. He once had a vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Photo credit: White House / Wikimedia

A decade ago today, a still relatively unknown first-term senator from Illinois announced that he would run for president. Now, three weeks after Barack Obama left the White House, it is worth taking another look at that speech he gave in Springfield, Illinois.

His words are those of somebody who was hopeful that he could change the country and the world. These aspirations were coupled with a certain naivete.

“I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington,” Obama said right after formally announcing his candidacy. “But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”

The nation’s capital certainly changed — just not the way Obama had hoped. Partisanship increased and, within two years of him taking office, the election of the first black president had helped give birth to a new far-right movement that now dominates the US government.

The speech also shows how difficult it is to change things — even for presidents. Obama presented a list of things that he never got close to accomplishing while in office. That might give hope to those who are worried about what Donald Trump might do.

There was even a part in Obama’s speech that could have been about his successor.

“We’ve been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight,” he said.

It is just one part of this historic speech that makes it worth watching again.

Related frontpage panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Barack Obama (Obama White House / Flickr).

48 responses to “Barack Obama Once Had a Dream”

  1. journey80 says:

    Yeah, he was pretty convincing, wasn’t he? Then he started naming his cabinet …

  2. Hugh Mayle says:

    Instead of prosecuting the “banksters” Obama instead became their champion. Reportedly, he had a meeting with the very men he promised to prosecute and told them “…Gentlemen, you have a serious public relations problem and I’m here to help”.

  3. Mackenzie says:

    I would be interested for Russ to post a response to these critical comments (as 100% of the comments on this article are negative). Does Russ stand by this piece?

    Side note: who what why is a 501c3 (which afaik means there’s some financial compensation from the government – I think tax breaks though not positive). Potentially that would help explain this piece of propaganda.

  4. againstcorporaterule says:

    The WhoWhatWhy Team just lost A LOT of credibility with this nauseating Obama apologist propaganda that we already are all bombarded with enough from corporate media! Why?! Just who the hell are you trying to impress, or win favor with, by posting such pure s… Are you getting some funding from people who want more delusional articles like this?

    Obama’s entire family worked for the CIA and you think Obama wasn’t hand picked and trained by Bush Sr himself as a tool to help distort MLK’s dream into more power for the 1%? And yet your entire “team” still plays dumb about Obama’s true content of character? Really?! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? How is it possible for ANYONE, let alone the the entire WhoWhatWhy “team,” to really believe the crap that was just posted here?

    Is it because he’s black that you’re so reluctant to judge him by his content of character? Because as anyone with half a brain can see, Obama belongs in the prison cell as both the Bush’s and the Clintons!

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      Interesting take. Please cite your claim that “Obama’s entire family worked for the CIA.”

    • pintorider says:

      I heard that same claim and I believe it. Grandpa was probably CIA as was his darling daughter, Stanley Ann.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      So, you “heard it.” … Well, that settles it. One can just imagine where you “heard” it.

    • pintorider says:

      I believe I got this idea of the CIA connection from Joel Gilbert. He’s not the only one saying it though. What do you think?

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      I think absurd stories like this originate on laughably bad “news” sites like InfoWars and wnd, and then take on a life of their own through people who can’t actually think critically.

    • Mackenzie says:

      Jumping into this convo: I don’t know if Obama’s family was in the CIA but it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. Remember HW Bush hid the fact that he was the head of the CIA when he became POTUS.

    • pintorider says:

      Some people confuse “assets” with trained agents. The two are not the same but both are CIA.

    • pintorider says:

      I’m not surprised you attack the messenger rather than the message. I’m amused you mentioned those two website for they are among the very few sites I no longer have the privilege of posting comments. I guess I’m an equal opportunity iconoclast… :)

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      You’re not really being a “messenger,” though. Do you see why?

    • pintorider says:

      And you’re really not attacking me. I’m not the messenger, the people promulgating this story are. You don’t refute, you attack the sources without (most likely) even looking at their evidence. And everyone who might disagree with your “opinion” by your implication “can’t think critically.” Pot Kettle Black

  5. Blaine says:

    Who, What, Why:

    is going to keep coming back here with this sort of article published


    the heck are they talking about? Obama never took his case to the people or he’d have had to make good on his promises


    are we still beating this dead horse – Obama’s greatest accomplishment was in doing the impossible – we couldn’t possibly have a worse president than George W

    Remove from ‘bookmarks’….

  6. punkyboy says:

    Obama was a Trojan Horse. He, and those who put him in power, knew exactly what he was – unfortunately the American people, reeling from 8 years of George W., swallowed that hope and change baloney whole.

  7. Alvy Singer says:

    Obama the campaigner made promises that Obama the President never even tried to keep. Others here have done a great job of putting together a long and detailed list of the many reversals that Obama made, even before he got into the fight so to speak.
    This article imho is not worthy of the high level of critical thought and detailed, objective investigation that Russ Baker’s Book, “Family of Secrets” brought to the public as well as many other fine pieces written by Russ and other journalists at Who What Why.

  8. schiamachy says:

    What happened to my post on American Exceptionalism. It was not a personally insulting or abusive post and was deeply felt. Was it censored for being too strong?

    • Comments editor says:

      Sir, thankyou for your comments.

      The post in question was not censored: it triggered our automated word-filter, and was held for moderation. We cannot always deal with comments as soon as they come in – hence the delay.

      Sadly, many perfectly acceptable words are often used in an abusive or insulting manner. This can at times result in legitimate comments containing such words, though deployed in a civilized manner, being held for the moderator. This is what has happened here.

      Having read the comment in question, I agree entirely with your assessment, and have cleared and published the comment.

      Yours faithfully, Comments editor.

  9. Flick says:

    What utter rubbish! Obama was a corporatist all the way! Does the WWW team actually believe campaign rhetoric? Is this a Dem prop site? Deep Politics? Try Dupe Politics…

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      You either didn’t read the story, aren’t being honest about what the story actually says, or are so blinded by hatred that you’re fooled into believing it says something that it doesn’t. Try and relax.

    • Gregory Herr says:

      Excuse me Jeff, but the article refers to hope, aspirations, and naïveté. That suggests he actually stood for his claimed aspirations…but his deeds prove otherwise.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      On many issues (including health care for all, needed regulations against corporate fraud, a draw-down in US troop presence abroad and many others) he fulfilled his mandate. While his deeds aren’t 100% what the left or right demanded all along, suggesting WhoWhatWhy is “a Dem prop site” is utterly ridiculous.

  10. gustave courbet says:

    I’m surprised that the WhoWhatWhy team was naive enough to frame the Obama presidency in such a way. Certainly Obama’s past contains numerous nods to mainstream progressivism and his campaign rhetoric was well-calculated, but his defining characteristic was his driving ambition and his willingness to compromise whatever principles he may or may not have had.

    His low-key attendance at the 08′ Bilderberg meeting aside, a prime example was his his speech before the Hamilton Project in 2006, a
    think tank created by former Goldman Sachs exec Robert Rubin which was
    both vague and uplifting but nonthreatening to Wall Street.
    Foreshadowing his presidential career he also supported the FISA
    Amendment Act as senator, giving immunity to telecom corporations
    involved in Bush’s illegal NSA dragnet. In his book “The Audacity of
    Hope” he staked out a Reagan-praising conservative nationalism and said
    “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being”.

    His final term didn’t see a shift away from his aggressive foreign policies and draconian domestic policies either. In fact, on the way out the door, he signed EO 12333, which created new rules that would allow the NSA to share vast amounts of
    private data with 16 other agencies. And that, KNOWING that Donald Trump would be coming in behind him. The “progressive Obama” exists only in the rosy imaginings of the ill-informed or selective reportage. I hope Russ and his team take a more rigorous editorial posture next time.

    • schiamachy says:

      Looking from the outside American exceptionalism is a concerning term that I equate with the “master race”. It seems however that not everyone is exceptional with no decent health care, millions who are functionally illiterate and huge discrepancy in incomes creating one of the most unequal societies on earth. This inequality is most stark if you are not white. The master race only seems to apply to the wealthy who are held up as paragons of excellence but who in many cases have a grubby past or lineage that has prospered through corruption, cheating, war profiteering and exploitation.

      Furthermore, there seems to be an acknowledged but accepted fault in the democratic system that has allowed a secret level of unelected governance to arise that overpowers the president and a parliament and which is fuelled by the same oligarchs and security chiefs who make up the deep state and which more resembles a dysfunctional royal court whose courtiers are minions of competing princes, rather than representative government.

      It is little wonder that the Saudi are not being banned from the USA, their model of governance/rule seems closer to the governance of the USA by the deep state oligarchs than any other on the planet, despite the theatre that purports to be peoples’ parliament and elected President.

    • gustave courbet says:

      Very well stated. I think many well-educated and reasonably informed Americans fall prey to the ubiquitous “consensus reality” that considers Obama to be a left of center president. I was surprised to see such a characterization on this site though.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      You mean like it has in the dozens of stories taking Obama to task already? Perhaps you’re new.

    • gustave courbet says:

      No, I mean in this particular article. Surely you’d agree that this portrayal neither fits with the facts or WhoWhatWhy’s other pieces on Obama. I’m generally appreciative of this site’s work and because of that, thought some constructive criticism was appropriate.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      What aspect of the article “does not fit with the facts?”

    • gustave courbet says:

      “His words are those of somebody who was hopeful that he could change the country and the world. These aspirations were coupled with a certain naivete.”

      One could call Obama many things, but naive isn’t one of them. Of course it’s impossible to know someone’s ultimate motivations, but my primary critique of Obama, and those that insist on lauding him as a progressive held back by the system, is that his ACTIONS clearly demonstrate a simpatico attitude with the ruling Washington consensus, from pro-multi-national corporation trade deals, to the ruthlessly lethal militarism of American empire, Obama was a “what-passes-for-centrist-in-America” upholder of the status quo, like Bill Clinton before him.

      As you pointed out, DOZENS of articles have taken Obama to task, and rightly so. My critique was of this article’s sanguine remembrance (perhaps understandable in light of the current lunatic in the White House) but still an inaccurately rosy portrayal.

  11. Gregory Herr says:

    OMG…and this is posted in a section called “deep politics”! Obama is a con artist & warmonger.

  12. Mackenzie says:

    “Barack Obama once had a dream”

    Is Who What Why seriously doing a (not so) subtle comparison of Obama to MLK?! Is anyone else incredulous at this propaganda?

  13. Paul E. Merrell, J.D. says:

    I am so tired of the “they wouldn’t let him do it” line about Obama’s presidency coming from so-called Progressives. He had the authority and the bully pulpit to force change but he did not do it. Even during the period between his election and being sworn in, “Change, yes we can” changed to “Yes, we can put things back just the way they were.” And he appointed Goldman Sachs officials to put things back the way they were for the Oligarchs, but not for the People.

    He launched and continued six wars of aggression and presided over our bloated military without any serious effort to transfer funding from the military to repairing our collapsing infrastructure. To top that off, without Congressional direction, he committed to a $1 trillion upgrade of nuclear weapons. When it came to health care, he discarded his campaign promise to deliver a single-payer system in his first speech on the topic in office, then sat back and watched while the insurance and drug companies put together their dream “Obamacare.” He did nothing about the rising cost of college education despite recognizing that we no longer have jobs for those without it. And when it comes to his promise to run the most transparent administration in history …

    So Obama’s Springfield speech was empty political rhetoric coming out of a rising star of the Democratic Chicago political machine, words uttered only to get elected. And ever since he took office, instead of holding his feet to the fire and forcing him to abide by his campaign promises, “Progressives” have done nothing but gripe about how the powers that be wouldn’t let him deliver on those promises. But what they can’t do is point to any history showing that Obama even tried, except for his unfulfilled promise to close that disgraceful prison in Guantanamo, where dozens of innocent men are still held. But did he use his bully pulpit to force that change through? Did Obama ever use his bully pulpit to force any change? Not in my recollection. Obama was a follower, not a leader. And it is far too generous to say that he did not know how to fight; he plainly did not want to fight.

    Obama’s singular accomplishment was being our first African-American president. But the only thing he proved thereby was that an African-American president can be every bit as corrupt as a white president. The man was willingly in thrall to the oligarchy. Let’s let him lie in the dustbin of history and get on with electing a candidate who is a genuine Progressive, then cost the Democratic Party an election if they won’t run one. That’s the only thing that can salvage the Democratic Party, forcing it into irrelevance if it does not change for the better. That delivers the message to the oligarchs that they either allow the government to be the People’s government or there will be a new party.

  14. (Comment by reader @maurlind 22h22) Give us a break please, he bombed 7 countries.

  15. Vivek Jain says:

    A terrible, half-baked piece, WhoWhatWhy Team. What are you all thinking, promoting the charlatan Obama. At your facebook post, I’ve put links to several pieces by the brilliant Left scholar Paul Street. It was Street who was among the first to identify that all was not as what it appeared with Obama. Do your homework, then re-write this article with some clarifications. Jeez, so disappointed in you all.

    • punkyboy says:

      Reading right now Street’s book – “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.” This book was published in 2009, so obviously at that time Street had no inkling of what was to come in the next 8 years, but the first few pages, “Obama’s Dollar Value,” give a good backward view of just who we elected in 2008 – and it wasn’t a starry-eyed progressive.

  16. J'onn J'onzz says:

    He also promised a “Open and Transparent” administration but ended up prosecuting more whistleblowers than any other President.

  17. Josh Stern says:

    Obama was aggressive in promoting drone assassinations, persecution of whistleblowers in the public interest as treasonous spies, special ops forces in most all foreign countries, criminal coups (Ukraine, Honduras), and funding of al Qaeda and ISIS to make war in Syria. He did nothing real on his campaign promise to close Guantanamo or end the abuse of people detained there with no legal rights, some of who the US govt. knows are innocent of any serious charge. Are we supposed to believe that Obama was dragged to all those policies? No, sorry. You’ve be conned and you continue to believe the con so long as it uttered with sincerity and a facade of caring in your media box.

    • schiamachy says:

      While I largely agree with you I think it has to be acknowledged that the restrictions applied by a shambolic dysfunctional and corrupt Congress, and a MSM that believes it is not so much a brake on the excesses of government but more a propaganda or misinformation unit that controls the country. In this situation good governance requires the strong support of the people but the people have allowed themselves to be manipulated and disempowered. The level of political ignorance and apathy in the USA is astounding and it is this apathy that has allowed your system to be overrun by the oligarchs and the deep state. As Bob Marley strongly advocated, you have to stand up for your rights. You are the most important guardians of democracy and it is you who have to take on the power invested in you not presidents or senators or congress members. Get active and stand up for your rights. Demand your representatives represent you and don’t accept carrots on sticks or that your vote is less powerful than that of billionaires or generals.

    • Josh Stern says:

      There are a lot of key issues moving politics and discussion of events today where “the facts” are very much in dispute: these include the reality of US covert and military involvement abroad in the “War on Terror”, the reality & frequency of domestic “terror incidents” & their causes, & the reality of whether the $1 trillion/year+ US military budget is actually targeted at defense & safety of the avg. citizen. The mainstream US media does not play an adversarial role to US govt. lying about these topics – in large measure it acts as an enabler for their false storytelling. As a result, large portions of the public won’t agree about diagnosis of problems or their solutions. IMO, the solutions necessarily involve ending the ability of the US Deep propaganda state – including CIA/DOD/FBI/NSA/DHS/FEMA – to produce propaganda, lies, and false flags.

    • punkyboy says:

      Then there was Libya.

    • pintorider says:

      What a terrible disaster that was – and few even acknowledge it.

    • punkyboy says:

      A regime change to send a message (as if one was needed) not to get too uppity in trying to run your own country, currency, oil supplies, etc. This was the tragedy of Libya, not the Benghazi email brouhaha that would not have happened had Gaddafi not been assassinated. Funny how it was never mentioned in the MSM that the Embassy there was being used to funnel arms and soldiers into Syria, or so I recall reading. Like your horse by the way – used to have horses in my younger days. Love them!

  18. Tempster says:

    He also said he wanted to spend 1 T. dollars to upgrade the nuclear arsenal! That from a peace prize president!

  19. drewboyy says:

    Assassinated Quaddafi. Tried to do the same to Assad. As a result how many Syrians have been raped, tortured, and murdered? With the most capable military IN THE WORLD can’t seem to scratch ISIS. Makes you wonder.

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