Thursday, January 19, 2017
The Greatest President of My Lifetime
I have lived through ten presidents, and tomorrow will be the eleventh. Of course I'm not old enough to understand what Kennedy or Johnson was like firsthand, but I do remember Nixon and how evil he was. And I can say, without too much hesitation, that Barack Obama is the greatest president of my lifetime.
I first wrote about him oven tears ago. At that point I couldn't imagine he could be president. A black president? In my lifetime? When the era of colored-only bathrooms was in my memory? That was absurd. How thrilled I was when he was elected, even though I had been laid off from my job only a few days before. And then eight years ago, how proud of my nation I was when he was inaugurated.
He has turned out to be the president of a progressive's dreams. Sure, there is some quibbling. He took too long to come around on gay marriage (thank you, Joe Biden, who by the way was a great vice-president), he didn't close Guantanamo, and his policies on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed cloudy. But his accomplishments are many. I could Google them and list them here, but we all know what they were. The most amazing thing he did was accomplish so much while half a Congress and half a nation were virulently opposed to him. They questioned his religion, his birthplace, his love for America. I find it amazing that anyone could see him speak, especially in moments of mourning (his speech in Tucson following the shooting there was genius) and not understand how much he does love this country.
I think his major success was righting the ship after the stormy few years before he took office, when the economy tanked, the auto business was in ruins, and we were mired in wars that had no seeming purpose or end. Above all, he did it with grace and dignity. I've had several dreams about Obama, and in some of them I was working for him and wanted nothing more than to make him pleased. He's the kind of guy you'd love to have as a neighbor, a brother-in-law, a college roommate (except for the smoking). The word that best describes him is mensch. I'd love to share a long car ride with him, talking about sports, music, and any other topic he'd like to touch on. I admit it, I've got a man crush on him.
And that's only half the story. Michelle Obama has been a great first-lady, even if she does have guns for arms. I know she has said she has no interest in public office, but I'd vote for her in a second. She is smart, she is compassionate, she is a humanitarian, just like her husband.
This all ends at noon tomorrow, when the comet hits the Earth. The Obamas will still be around, probably not commenting on the new president--they're too classy for that. They never commented on impersonations, or jokes about being monkeys. They're above that. The contrast is stark--we go from a great man, a man of the ages, to a buffoon, a common huckster. From the smartest president in a generation to the stupidest. From a man who speaks in paragraphs to a man who Tweets in misspelled words.
As a self-taught student of history, I still think Abraham Lincoln was our greatest president--how could anyone come through the Civil War with such greatness as he did--but Obama is right up there, along with the Roosevelts and George Washington. Not only for what he did, but for who he was. These past eight years have been like a golden age, a short respite from the darkness and misery we've gone through pretty much unabated for forty years. Perhaps he was the outlier, and we're back to our sorry business. If so, I'm glad to have had a chance to live through it.