Former president Barack Obama guest of honor at Baker Institute gala

Former president Barack Obama was the guest of honor at the 25th Anniversary Gala of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The 44th president took part in a moderated conversation with former Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Presidential historian Jon Meacham served as moderator.

On the historic night for Rice University's Baker Institute, former president Obama did his best to redirect American history back to common goals, common values and national compassion.

Before an audience of more than 1,000, a conversation unfolded, driven by lessons from the past, but also clearly focused on our nation's future. On this night, President Obama called absolutely essential a return to political civility.

“The biggest challenge we're going to have over the next 10, 15, 20 years, is to return to a civic conversation in which if I say this is a chair, we agree this is a chair,” former president Obama said. “We can disagree on whether it's a nice chair, whether we should replace the chair, whether you want to move it over there, but we can't say it's an elephant.”

The former president's most fervent call was for a cessation of a growing and destructive plague of bigotry.

“In those environments, you then start getting a different kind of politics. You start getting politics that's based on ‘that person’s not like me and it must be their fault’. And you start getting politics based on a nationalism, that's not pride and country, but hatred for somebody on the other side of the border. And you start getting the kind of politics that does not allow for compromise, because it's based on passions and emotions.”

During his visit to Houston, the 44th president made time to visit the 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush. The two men are said to have had a great conversation and to have rekindled their strong relationship.