Other people will (and already have) spill tons of ink on Obama's legacy, from both sides of the political divide. This isn't a post about politics, even if I might be inclined to do some partisan arguing. This is a reflection about a man who couldn't possibly have lived up to the hopes he embodied for liberals like me, nor could he have ever changed the hearts and minds of so many who refused to see beyond their self-built walls.
I remember the amazing swell of emotion I felt in November 2008 watching this completely unique family (at least in terms of our political experience to that time) walk onstage at Grant Park after Obama had defeated John McCain. In that speech, he echoed John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, and he also worked in some Sam Cooke when he said, "It's been a long time coming, but change has come to America."
In that same speech, he also laid out a vision for the country, saying, ""This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can."
Yes, we can. And yes, we did. Some things. It's the great shame of our time that so many worked so hard to make sure that we didn't do so many others out of pure partisan (and let's not mince words - racist) spite. But if you look at the record, it's remarkable what Obama was able to accomplish despite that unyielding opposition. In the last eight years, President Obama's administration:
- Ended the most significant economic recession since the 1930s
- Passed the most sweeping healthcare reform measure since the implementation of Medicare, which provided more than 20 million Americans with access to healthcare
- Killed Osama bin Laden
- Supported the legalization of same sex marriage, which eventually happened in 2015
- Nominated the first Hispanic American to the Supreme Court
- Oversaw net positive job growth every month since February 2010, a record streak
- Presided over an economy that drove a 235% growth in the S&P, a 16.4% annualized return
While I'm a homer, I'm not a blind one. Obama wasn't perfect. His failed Syria policy will be a blood-red stain on his legacy. He either underestimated or discounted the ferocity of the GOP resistance to his Presidency, and in so doing foreclosed on any opportunity to productively collaborate, or to take his message more directly to the voters. Dave has strong opinions here, saying, "I'd like to thank him for...doing some weird pardons, backing off his red line on biological weapons, allowing Aleppo to fall to pieces, kowtowing to the tire lobby (Ed: tire lobby?), and not pushing for the legalization of marijuana." Dave had the same high hopes as a lot of lefties who feel a little betrayed by Obama's cautious centrism, apparently. And worth real notice, as Marls points out, "I would not thank him for taking liberties with Presidential powers in response to obstructionist douchenozzles, the same douchenozzles who are now going to advocate the fucktard in chief use them the same way." Word.
But on balance, I agree strongly with the words of no less a sage than our own Zman, "He brought a combination of intelligence, dignity, respectability, and competency to the office what was unprecedented in my lifetime. So thanks for making our country great again."
While we dabble in crappy political commentary here from time to time, at root we're about popular culture. There's never been a President more aware of and connected to the culture, nor more influential. He was, and is, cool. Cooler than us. Cooler by miles than any previous President. George W. Bush might've been fun at the bar, but Obama...man, that dude was chill. Remember this?
His opponents freaked the fuck out at that last video, because, well, because a lot of them are racists. In Mark's telling, he appreciated Obama because his tenure, "Allow[ed] me to get a very, very clear picture of how many of my high school classmates are not so sneaky racists. They thought their Facebook posts were subtle and that they weren't betraying their true feelings. They were wrong. And my previous decisions to not actually be friends with these people were validated."
All presidents invite artists to the White House. None before had Common and Chance the Rapper and A$AP Rocky and Pharrell and Kendrick Lamar and Prince and Alicia Keys at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
He name-dropped Ludicris, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, and Sheryl Crow. His playlists included Arcade Fire, No Doubt, Raphael Saadiq, and Jennifer Hudson. He sung along with Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, and B.B. King and tried his hand at singing Al Green solo.
He tore up the White House bowling alley to put in a basketball court, and he actually played hoops on the regular. He showed us his NCAA Tournament bracket, even if it was always chalky as hell. He had legitimately great comedic timing, killing the White House Correspondents Dinner roast on an annual basis.
He wore Dad jeans, sure, but even the coolest misstep from time to time. We can forgive him that, too, because he was such a great public Dad and a gracious and clearly doting husband.
And in the cool de grace, he gave us Biden. Man, we don't have time to do Biden justice, but that cat was one of a kind.
The Obama moment that'll stick with me the longest, among a great many memorable moments, involves a different kind of music. In the wake of the tragic murder of nine people at a church in Charleston, President Obama spoke at the eulogy of Reverend Clementa Pinckney. His anguished, human, moment of grace told us so much:
He was at his best in moments like this one, like the days after Sandy Hook, like his words about Trayvon Martin, where his humanity, his dignity, his grace, and his willingness to believe in our better angels were all on full display. We didn't deserve that belief, as it turns out, and that's both his greatest blind spot and our failure as a people.
Whitney reflected on that belief and that failure, saying, "I would thank him for being a brilliant beacon of hope and optimism in 2008. Many of us say stunned, post-election 8 years ago, wondering how the hell it happened in our country that a black man was elected President when we were convinced there was enough subterranean bigotry to preclude that from ever happening. From that moment, quickly revealed as fleeting, we basked in the promise of a day, an era, a future devoid of skin-deep-hatred and scapegoatating. We smiled broadly along with Barack Obama.
|This is my favorite picture of President Obama|
For now, however, while nobody is truly smiling alongside smirky President Trump, I take a moment to smile at what was achieved by Barack Obama in the face of long odds, and I hope that kind of progress and good fortune passes this way again someday."
Whitney never did lack for things to say.
Shlara was a bit more concise, offering this farewell, "Thanks for being the best president in my lifetime. But more importantly, thanks to you and your wife for being inclusive and real and empathetic and decent and kind and optimistic--always."
She also turned me on to President Obama's final letter to America, a typically optimistic and hopeful message, in which the unlikeliest (second most unlikely, I guess) President says, "And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’"
As for me, I'll really miss his basic, fundamental humanity. In the face of all the bullshit he dealt with, he was never not decent, honorable, and caring. Our greatest failure, not his, was setting impossible expectations. And he never complained about the unfairness in that, but rather raised his eyes, looked at the bar, and gave it a run.
Fuck, but I'll miss him.