(Obama's best speech, I think, might still be the one he gave in Cairo shortly after he took office, above. I remember watching the whole thing in real time with my jaw practically on the floor. What a contrast with the guy who came before him!)
I have to admit I fell asleep for part of last night's speech (I missed my afternoon nap) and at one point turned to my wife and said something about it being kind of dry. She agreed, saying it sounded like he was addressing the Harvard Law School or something. Maybe I'm a little tired of hearing Obama speak (no, make that used to hearing him speak), and maybe after eight years I'm finally ready for him to hand the reins to someone else. (No I'm not; I'd vote for Obama again in a heartbeat! Who wouldn't?)
But Bernstein hit the nail on the head at the end of his piece:
The good news is that Barack Obama may not have given a great presidential farewell address, but he's hardly finished as a public speaker. He's probably better situated to give important post-presidential speeches than any of his predecessors, given his age and his particular abilities, talents, and interests. When scholars and students study his greatest speeches decades from now, they'll skip over this one to get to the good ones he gave after he left office.
He has a lot left to say. I look forward to hearing from Citizen Obama.
And I said something similar to my wife. Look, this guy is only 55 years old! And he'll be living in Washington until his younger daughter graduates from high school. He's not going anywhere. And, unlike other former presidents, I'm sure he'll make his voice heard after he leaves the Oval Office. Obama will choose his battles carefully, to be sure, but he could be a force for the next, what, thirty years! I wouldn't be surprised if one of the first questions on everyone's mind when a particular topic comes up in the future is, "Yeah, but what does Obama think about it?"
Of the last thirteen presidents, two of the most consequential, FDR and JFK, died in office. And a third, Reagan, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease less than two years after he left the White House. So none of them were able to have a consequential post-presidency.
As for the rest, Truman, Carter and Nixon left office deeply unpopular; Ike and LBJ died shortly after leaving the Capitol; Ford and both Bushes kept low-ish profiles, and Clinton spent much of his time working on his foundation and furthering his wife's career.
So that leaves President Obama, not only young but as popular as Reagan when he left office, free to speak out and influence events going forward. I wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be the most consequential former president in history.