Thursday, January 19, 2017
A Good President, A Better Man
Michael Tomasky has a piece in The Daily Beast on the Obama years that is a good take on the highlights and, yes, low points of his two terms in office. I won't rehash it here; you can read it for yourself.
What I wanted to do is take a few minutes and share some thoughts on the man who I believe when historians look back on this period in time will be regarded as one of the most effective and successful presidents of his generation.
When I think of Barack Obama, what will stand out most is his dignity and composure. In the face of some of the most vile and disgusting rhetoric ever spewed at a sitting president, he let it all roll off his back. Not once did he sink to the level of his opponents. Not even Joe Wilson calling him a liar during a joint session of Congress could provoke him. He was, as I've said many times, the Jackie Robinson of politics. A man who knew he was making history and was determined to make sure he didn't screw it up.
And he was by far the most mature adult in the room. Despite a fierce and coordinated opposition that was determined to block him at every turn, Obama always made an effort to reach out and seek some measure of bipartisanship. He was the consummate optimist and, like his favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, he sought out the better angels of those around him, perhaps not quite realizing that it was their worst demons who, more often than not, got in the way.
Maybe that's the reason that Obama, for all his virtues and attributes, was taken to the cleaners so many times by his rivals. The man worshipped Lincoln, but I suspect he never really understood him. Yes, Lincoln freed the slaves; yes, he went to war to prevent the South from seceding from the Union. But Lincoln was also the president who suspended Habeas Corpus and made every deal imaginable to get the Emancipation Proclamation passed. I suspect that had the Brooklyn Bridge been built, he might very well have auctioned it off to garner some votes. In a way Lincoln was the Lyndon Johnson of his era. Perhaps more refined, but hardly angelic.
Obama never quite got that fact. If he had, I suspect we might've seen a far more feisty and cunning president. Not cunning in the same manner as Nixon, or the soon to be occupant of the Oval Office. One needn't be a megalomaniac or pathological to posses a penchant for successful deal making.
As a salesman, one of the things that irked me most about Obama's negotiating style was his inability to play hardball when it mattered most. He always seemed more concerned about being fair-minded and arriving at an equitable solution, not quite realizing - or perhaps accepting - that his opponents often took advantage of his largesse.
Whether it was his healthcare law, which now appears all but certain to be repealed, or the stimulus, that many on the Left warned him would be insufficient to jump-start the economy, Obama's desire to seek a consensus when none was available became his undoing. Indeed, it plagued him throughout his presidency and was at least partly to blame for the midterm disasters of both 2010 and 2014 that cost Democrats both houses of Congress and a substantial portion of state governorships throughout the country.
But I keep coming back to that dignity and composure. Given what he had to contend with, it was nothing short of miraculous that the man didn't lose it on several occasions. Personally, I wouldn't have lasted a month before I went off. Thankfully, Obama was made of stronger stuff. He was a gentleman as well as a gentle man, a loving husband and a good father. As a family, the Obamas graced the White House in a way not seen in over a generation. Not one scandal plagued this administration - NOT ONE! He was, and is, by any and all accounts one of the most decent human beings ever to set foot in the Oval Office. A far cry from what we are about to see Friday.
I will miss him terribly when he's gone. I cried tears of joy the night of his election; and when he departs the White House for that last time tomorrow morning, I suspect I will shed a tear of sorrow for what the nation has lost, but even more so, for what the nation settled on as his replacement.