A man in a charcoal gray suit and elegant tie walks upright to the podium, where he stands flanked by a huggable Vice President and a Speaker of the House who wears a cartoonishly villainous scowl (O! Who knew I’d miss John Boehner?). He looks as though he’s aged 25 years, not just the 7 that it’s been since I felt the rush of hope that accompanied his first State of the Union address.
You won’t have to guess which side I’m on, here. This is a love letter to President Barack Obama.
How many of you have read The Picture of Dorian Gray? That’s the one where the main character’s portrait ages instead of him, where everything that happens to change his face happens to the portrait. We are Dorian Gray, and Obama is our portrait. Our sins are etched in the lines on his face.
Boy, did Michelle look fabulous, though. What a dress! And an “I am done with bullshit” expression to go with it.
But this is about the State of the Union address. Obama began by focusing on America’s accomplishments, moved on to problems we need to tackle such as global warming, the wage gap, immigration, and ISIS/ISIL (the detour of military celebration was, though popular, a bit troubling to me). You guys can read about all that in the million summary articles online, including the ones here at Contemptor.
I want to talk about what Obama has given us, what we should not take for granted, what we’ll miss when he’s gone. I want to talk about the persistence and work ethic of a former city planner. I want to talk about the nuanced political understanding of a Harvard-educated lawyer. I want to talk about the grassroots funding of a revolutionary political campaign. We can forever cherish the gains our country has made under his Presidency, from wider availability of insurance to the legalization (finally) of gay marriage. But who knows how much we may (depending on the outcome of the next election) come to miss watching a man of sense and compassion clearly delivering a beautifully crafted speech, not folkified or dumbed down, to an audience he respects and cares for?
I admire Hillary Clinton, and I’m fond of Bernie Sanders. But there will never be another Barack Obama. He was the first President I ever called my own. I campaigned for him before I was even old enough to vote. Sure, I was born the year Bill Clinton was elected, but it’s hard to love a cheater, and it’s impossible to love a Bush. But it’s been different recently. Obama, for the last 7 years, has been my safety net, my assurance that, no matter how fucked our political system gets, someone in there is pulling for me—a student, child of teachers, a woman, and an opinionated voice among voices in our democracy.
Tonight, Obama cheered us on for our “optimism that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” I want to believe that—I’ll try, because I want to make my President proud. But I’m afraid. Our crop of Presidential candidates—with not nearly enough women, and a skin color forecast of white with a slight chance of orange—frighten me. Fear of the unknown is, after all, the great human flaw.
Obama assures us we will not be losing him come next January. He promises, “I will be with you as a citizen.” I will be proud to share that title with him.
To you, Mr. President, I dedicate this song from Hamilton (your favorite musical) about the retirement of President George Washington, inventor of the 2-term limit (curse and bless him).