Since the Obamas are on their way out, let me say some final words.
The first time I saw Barack Obama on TV it was 2004. My family and I were in Washington, DC during the DNC. I remember seeing a bunch of young people scurrying off the metro in DNC shirts. I figured they were interns. There was some buzz that a well-spoken, poised junior senator was set to speak. And speak he did. And his beautiful wife and small daughters joined him on stage. What a nice family.
Fast forward to 2007. There’s all this talk that Barack Obama should run for president. The same way I remember people pushing Colin Powell to run. Except Colin Powell was much more emphatic in his response, whereas it seemed Obama was entertaining it. I was against it in the beginning. I thought he should finish his senate term and then run. Welp, he decided to run.
Obama stopped in Ames, IA early in the campaign, early 2007. It was a Sunday and he was to be at the Hilton Coliseum on the campus of Iowa State University. I was a graduate student there and my friend Ese and I made plans to see him. But we weren’t missing church.
So after church, we bolted. Even though there was snow on the ground, I was in my best black heels, jeans and a white shirt. I stepped gingerly in the snow and ice until we made it inside. The place was packed. There were tables set up giving out buttons and pamphlets with “change” written on them. We finally were able to get a view of the stage from the nosebleed section. I could see Obama as a small figure, casually walking and demonstrating some concept with his hands. You know the way he does. By the time we got situated, Obama thanked the crowd and wished them well.
We had missed it!
But it wasn’t a total loss. We picked up some merch on the way out.
Fast forward to 2008. Presidential debates. I am now back in Memphis, living at home and trying to find a job. My previous employer had laid me off in the “economic slowdown” (I believe Bush still called it this in early 2008, not wanting to acknowledge the recession). I seriously considered volunteering to work Obama’s campaign. My job prospects were bleak. I watched the news everyday. Remember those bleak job numbers?
I started 2008 being pro-Hillary. Well, really pro-Bill, but she was the next best thing. She was what I knew. I don’t remember an exact phrase that Obama said, but after a while, the “change” message started to resonate with me. Perhaps I was being too cynical about politics. Looking back 8 years, I don’t agree with everything Obama did. He turned out to be much more of a moderate than the liberal he ran as. I know the left thought he was a poor negotiator, that he gave away too much with little in return or that he didn’t go far enough in some areas. The right thought he went too far. The balancing act Obama tried to juggle, trying to give each side something it wanted, although admirable, I believe, was his downfall. He seemed to waffle in the middle a lot and maybe what he didn’t realize was not choosing is a choice as well.
I try to think of other ways he could have handled things. There are a million. Imagine if he wasn’t so accommodating. Imagine if he wasn’t such a thorough thinker that he didn’t suffer from analysis paralysis. (I recall some of his earlier speeches seem to have this quality. Seems later he became much bolder in his opinions. Especially when it came to matters of race, BLM, police brutality he started to speak up towards the end.) There were times early on when I thought “why doesn’t he just piss someone off?” Just take a stand. Any stand. Yet, would he be so popular, especially among Democrats, had he taken this approach?
I know some people were disenchanted with him in 2012. Frankly, I didn’t think he had lived up to all his hype either. But what politician does? I know Obama ran in 2008 as the non-politician, the “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig” (which is a political statement that many politicians used in the past which effectively made him a politician) candidate, but he was a politician. And after Romney’s “47%” debacle who was left but Obama. So I gave him another shot.
Talk about someone who considers every side of the issue! I know news commentators called him “too professorial” (which I found ironic after they dragged Bush through the mud for being “the decider”), too elite, too out of touch with everyday Americans, that he talked over everyone’s heads. Frankly, I appreciated his in-depth coverage. From his accomplishments to his failures, from his singing “Let’s Stay Together” to his dance moves, for what it’s worth, Mr. President, you made a believer out of me.