It’s Friday, January 20, 2017.
That’s the first thing that’s hard to write. This day – at first thought to be impossible, then thought to be highly improbable, then thought to be certainly not happening – is now inevitable.
So I’m writing this while Barack Obama is still President of the United States.
I’ve appreciated that fact since the night of his election. I was working at CNN and never got to see the spontaneous parade on Broadway of people celebrating.
We knew his presidency wouldn’t last forever. At most, it would be eight years long, and eight years are up.
I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about Obama that makes me feel so sad at his departure from the White House.
Presidents come and go. Some you like and some you don’t. I’m a Democrat, so you can guess who my favorites are.
But Obama stands out. In a big way.
I think it’s because he, above all else, is a man of words.
You’d know this by reading “Dreams From My Father,” his memoir of his family written 20 years ago. It is compelling reading, and all the more so because it’s hard to imagine that the young man who wrote so candidly about his shortcomings and a life without a father had designs on the White House.
His speeches are brilliant. Every one of them entertaining, informative and inspiring. I should disqualify the Rutgers commencement speech I attended last year, which was still pretty damn impressive.
My favorite remains his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. I thought he was at his absolute best that day. http://time.com/3736357/barack-obama-selma-speech-transcript/
His words sang that day. They were, in their own way, a brag. Not about himself, but about the country he led.
“Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We,’ he said. “We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.”
“Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours,” he said.
His language reached us because it was meant to celebrate us. The words reflected his pride in his country and implored us to share it.
Obama reminds us that it is patriotic to be compassionate. It is patriotic to be generous. That America is better when it reaches than when it just grabs, when it considers others rather than tries to rule them.
What makes me sad in these final hours of this presidency is the sense of losing what is best about America. Its hopes, its ambitions and its compassion.
The people who voted for his successor couldn’t see past the smoke screen put up by his detractors, none of whom – none – can match his ability to articulate what’s best about America. We’re going from poetry to cacophony – literally in a split second.
So in these last moments, let’s savor the fact that Barack Obama was President of the United States. And when you’re down in the next four years – and there will be lots of opportunities to be down in the next four years – just search YouTube for a video. There are hundreds in the 2,682 days of his presidency.
And never let it be forgotten that once, in our lifetime, America had a leader who sang our hopes and aspirations. One of which is that someone like him comes along again some day.