Bright-eyed, I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Disenchanted, I voted third party in 2012. So it goes with politics. Politicians, after all, never live up to all their lofty promises and it was the stains of whistleblower persecution, mass deportation, expanded drone warfare, and the persistence of the prison at Guantanamo bay (among others) that changed my vote. But I woke up this morning and chose to write this piece not as an invective against President Obama or a dissection of his policies. I woke up this morning feeling nostalgic, as if I was saying goodbye to a close friend, and wanted to write a piece about President Obama the man.
One of the hallmarks of Obama’s tenure as president, politics aside, has been his ability to emotionally and personally become a part of our lives. For eight years, he has been a consistent and sobering father figure for a nation that continues to reel through massive social and economic unrest. And through it all, so many of us have perhaps come to feel his presence in both obvious and subtle ways. He tells us what we need to hear, whether we like it or not, and he has always done so with seemingly infinite patience and compassion, regardless of party or politics. So while I do not know President Obama personally (and he definitely does not know me), I do feel without a flinching doubt that I could sit with him and drink a beer and talk about life and the world with the same comfort that I do with my own father. I have a strange feeling that I am not alone with such sentiments.
It was a platform of hope that catapulted the relatively unknown senator to the presidential spotlight in 2008. He brought young people together, inspiring an entire generation (including myself) of American youth that change and progress were not only possible, but if we took his words seriously, they were almost inevitable. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we have all heard the Obama mantra that, “The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
This message seems somewhat ironic given the current state of our democracy and the impending four years of Trump’s America. No doubt, it was some of the specific policy shortcomings of Obama ― namely his handling of the economic crises in 2008 ― which were responsible, in part, for the Trump phenomena in 2016. But even in the past months, despite the looming shadow and litany of scandals, Obama has remained hopeful and optimistic ― almost infinitely and easily so ― about the power of this country to overcome and persevere. Not only does he believe we will survive the next four years, he almost seems to think that we may come out on the other side better off for it. One could hardly imagine a better example for our country right now than the one that Obama continues to set.
In spite of my own misgivings and desperate concerns, I cannot help to be anything but passionately, defiantly optimistic as well. To be otherwise would betray the lessons that President Obama has been trying to instill in all of us ― young and old alike ― for the past 8 years. It would betray the deeply-personal sense of public service that he exudes. Indeed, it seems that President Obama has viewed his role for the past two terms less as the leader of the free world and more as the custodian of an immensely privileged position of service. More than just the president, Obama has been the steward of our country and the living example ― however imperfectly at times ― of the best values we offer as a nation. In Obama, any sense of ego seems a remote subtext, a reality made all the more evident in comparison to his successor.
...I have always felt that their efforts have revolved around a fold of children far bigger than just Malia and Sasha."
And it is more than just the President Obama that has built this legacy of dedicated service, but also his brilliant partner Michelle, in all her grace, poise and elegance. Together, these two have mourned with us, encouraged us, made us laugh, and shown us a paradigm of compassion and conviviality to strive towards. Of all people, these two would have every right to be the most disheartened by the results of the election, and yet they seem to have handled it in stride. Maybe this reflects how they actually feel, maybe not. But regardless, they have comported themselves in exactly the way that this country has needed. After all, so much of what President Obama and First Lady Michelle have done has never been about themselves, but something far greater. In true parental fashion, I have always felt that their efforts have revolved around a fold of children far bigger than just Malia and Sasha.
That is the truest sense of public service I can imagine.
President Obama has been many things and his politics have made me tear my hair out at times. But he has also been a friend, a guide, and a source of infinite comfort. He has worn great trials with the composure of great strength and yet, he has also shown us a side of great vulnerability and emotion. He has been our Professor in Chief as much as our Commander in Chief and everything in between.
And because of all of this, even despite political differences, today I bid a heartfelt, teary-eyed goodbye to the Obama family. Your presence will be so sorely missed, but you have selflessly given us so much, it would seem selfish to ask any more. You have shown us how to be better citizens and better people and to work for something greater than ourselves.
And for that I say, sincerely, thanks Obama.