As we quickly approach the period that future generations will refer to as, “The Dark Time,” and we imagine the phrase, “Disgraced Former President Trump,” will enter the lexicon quickly, we could all do for a little hope and positivity.
President Obama’s Farewell Address the other night was a great speech. Thoughtful, inspiring, emotional, heartfelt. My one big criticism is that it may have been too long, with too many points, neatly wrapped up in a, “Yes We Can,” ribbon that left me wonder what it is we can actually do?
I’ve had this same conflicted feeling since I first saw Barack Obama on the national stage (specifically the 2004 DNC Stage, where he gave the Keynote Address). I could tell right away this guy would run for the Presidency but I didn’t think it would be so quick and certainly didn’t think he could win that handily against the Clinton Machine. I could not support him because of fundamental disagreements about the role of government and my belief that he lacked the executive experience, or significant DC experience, to do the job effectively. Nevertheless, I liked the man and I have liked him more as time has passed. In part because of who he is and in part because I am sickened by the often racist and stupid attacks upon. His ability to hold his head high and continue to set a good example in the face of such adversity is truly remarkable.
“Optics” matter and I am glad that my first son was born under the first African American President. I remember having a few black heroes when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s but they were athletes, like Muhammad Ali and Rod Carew, or pop stars and comedians, like Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy. They were never men revered for their intellect or gravitas, and I never saw black people as leaders or holders of real power. What a different and better starting point this has given my boy. Without a doubt it has helped him to see all people as truly equal. Sadly, my second son, and countless other children, will likely become aware of what a President is through the funhouse mirror version of the Trump Administration; a key leader of the racist and stupid “birther” movement and a glaring example of everything I do not want my children to be.
Practical results also matter. In some ways President Obama surprised me, taking out a great many foreign jihadis, including the bin Laden raid, deep into the sovereign territory of our sometimes ally, Pakistan. More often than not, however, Obama’s results were lackluster at best. The Iran Deal was one of two key moves on which he bet his legacy and I fear it will not play out well. Arguably there were no good options on what to do with Iran but that won’t matter in the final assessment for most people when the deal goes bad. The President’s other major legacy move, of course, was Obamacare. On this one I was befuddled from the start. The President seemed to let his Congressional Colleagues stuff everything they wanted into the bill without any leadership or objections from the White House, creating a mountain of legislation that 99.9978% of us still don’t understand. And he did all this with zero support from Republicans, which was truly unprecedented for a legal initiative of that size and scope. Did more people get coverage? Yes. Did everyone I know see their healthcare expenses rise while their coverage got worse? Also, Yes. And now what? Will the “repeal and replace” keep those 20 million new people covered? Will Obama be able to argue that he at least got us that far? I don’t know. It’s such a mess.
You can argue that the Republicans were obstructionists, which is true, but then you get into this chicken and the egg game that goes back to the Bush Administration, and the Clinton Administration, and on and on, with back and forth, often petty, “They started it,” crap. Maybe, just maybe, after we live through the worst possible example of public behavior from our new Twitter Troll and Chief, we may swing back to a more civil discourse in the future but that doesn’t change the fact that Obama took the job, as W. Bush before him, to be a “uniter,” and neither proved to be up to the task. Maybe the real problem is that we expect too much from our leaders and do not demand enough from ourselves. That was certainly one of the points that I think President Obama was trying to make in his Farewell Address and certainly something I hope we all take to heart.