Barack Obama Doesn’t Think Voting Will Make the Country Perfect. He Wants You to Do It Anyway.

The former president made an impassioned call for young people to head to the polls on Nov. 3.

Matt Slocum/AP

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This afternoon, Barack Obama stopped by Philadelphia, the largest city in that crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, to urge people to elect his former vice president, Joe Biden, to the highest office in the land.

At the roundtable of community leaders, Anthony Phillips, the executive director of a youth civic engagement organization in Philadelphia, asked the president, “Given our political and social atmosphere, why should young Black men care to be engaged in the political process?”

Obama didn’t mince words. “What I consistently try to communicate during this year, particularly when I’m talking to young brothers who may be cynical about what can happen, is to acknowledge to them that government and voting alone isn’t gonna change anything,” he said. “Young people are sophisticated, so there’s no point in overhyping what happens.”

Obama admitted that his presidency had not solved all the nation’s issues. But he likes to think he left the country a little bit better. Criminal justice reform under Attorney General Eric Holder meant that many Black men convicted of nonviolent drug crimes faced more lenient sentences than they may have under previous administrations. The Affordable Care Act insured more than 20 million Americans, saving countless lives.

“The answer for young people when I talk to them is not that voting makes everything perfect,” he said. “It’s that it makes things better.”

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