Former President Barack Obama, in his first public remarks since leaving office, drew laughter from an audience Monday when he said his previous comments that there were no red states or blue states were meant as an "aspirational comment."
Speaking before a group of students at the University of Chicago, Obama reflected on the current political divide in the country, acknowledging how many Americans are "listening to people who already agree with them and are further and further reinforcing their own realities to the neglect of a common reality."
The former president recalled saying before he became president that there was no such thing as red states or blue states. But on Monday, Obama added that when he made that comment, he was speaking not realistically, but ideally.
"When I said in 2004 there were no red states or blue states. They are the United States of America, that was an aspirational comment," Obama said.
That comment prompted laughter from the audience. But Obama doubled down.
"But I think it's — and it's one by the way that I still believe in the sense that when you talk to individuals one on one, there's a lot more that people have in common that divides them," Obama said. "But obviously, it's not true when it comes to our politics and civic life. And maybe more pernicious is the fact that people just aren't involved. They get cynical. And they give up. And as a consequence, we have one of the lowest voting rates of any advanced democracy and low participation rates then translate into a further gap between who's governing us and what we believe.
In April 2012, then-President Obama tweeted "There are no red states or blue states, just the United States."
There are no red states or blue states, just the United States. http://t.co/xm7EFGjK— Barack Obama (@Barack Obama) 1335842060.0
Eight years earlier, when Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he said "there is not a liberal America. There is not a conservative America. There is the United States of America."