Obama says the "world counts on America having its act together"

Last Updated Oct 19, 2017 6:16 PM EDT

Former President Barack Obama on Thursday lamented the state of Washington politics and emphasized that the world is watching America's example in his first public campaign appearance since leaving office. 

Obama, campaigning for Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee for New Jersey governor in Newark, said the world "counts on America having its act together. The former president has kept a relatively low profile since President Trump took office, with the exception of occasional statements. But on Thursday, Obama signed up to headline two campaign events — one for Murphy, and another one for Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor in Virginia. Both New Jersey and Virginia have gubernatorial elections in November. 

"The world counts on America having its act together," Obama said. "The world is looking to us as an example. The world asks what our values and ideals are and are we living up to our creed?"

The former commander-in-chief also lamented an ongoing "politics of division," in a speech that did not mention his successor by name. 

"What we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before — that dates back centuries," Obama said. "Some of the politics we see now we thought we put that to bed. I mean that's folks looking 50 years back. It's the 21st century, not the 19th century. Come on!"

Obama's response to Charlottesville in a tweet became the most-liked tweet ever, even as Mr. Trump failed to strongly condemn the white nationalist rally violence that left one young woman dead. Mr. Trump famously blamed "both sides" for the turn of events.

Obama urged the crowd to reject such a "politics of fear" and "division."

"You're gonna' send a message to the country and you're gonna send a message to the world that we are rejecting a politics of division," Obama said Thursday. "We are rejecting a politics of fear. That we are embracing a politics that says everybody counts. A politics that says everybody deserves a chance. A politics that says everybody has dignity and worth. A politics of hope. That's what you're fighting for."

CBS News' Arden Farhi contributed to this report. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.