The first time I heard Barack Obama speak was at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The then junior U.S. Senator from Illinois was an unknown political voice to me. But as he delivered his eloquent keynote speech, I was moved in a profound way. I couldn’t help but think, “Who is this guy and why have I never heard of him?
Sitting there in front of my TV, watching this amazing speaker, I remember commenting to my friend there with me, “Man this guy is incredible! He should be the Democratic nominee for president!” My friend chuckled, “A black man as president? Keep dreaming. Not enough non-racist votes to elect such a guy.”
Well, only four short years later, the once seemingly impossible had become reality. I remember crying like a little child when Barack Hussein Obama raised his hand and was sworn in as our nation’s 44th president. I foolishly thought this was going to be the beginning of a new era in the American experiment. A black man had been elevated to the most powerful office in the free world! Here was the transformational leader America so desperately needed. A man who personified hope and grace; a uniting force; a man who talked about transcending the nation’s political divide even in the face of the uncompromising extremism of the modern American right. Surely this was the beginning of something special.
I soon found out how naive my thoughts were. Before the blink of an eye, the conservative media in general, and Fox News in particular, expressed their dislike and disdain for our new young president. Rush Limbaugh famously proclaimed, “I hope he fails.” This was soon followed by Mitch McConnell’s incredible,” The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” What a noble legislative goal I remember thinking! There was no talk about what Americans really needed, things such as jobs, economic fairness, educational opportunity or the lifting up of the middle class.
That our president has been able to achieve anything of significance, with a Republican opposition committed to his failure from day one, has been nothing short of amazing. To have achieved the historic passage of the Affordable Care Act, when so many previous presidents had tried and failed, was, in the words of Joe Biden, “A big f___ing deal!” Then there was the lifting of the nation out of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression; the ending of our combat mission in Iraq; the hunting down and killing of Osama Bin Laden. The list of achievements is a long one and should be viewed by all Americans with great pride. The simple truth is that Barack Hussein Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.
This, of course, did not stop former Vice President Dick Cheney from foolishly claiming Obama is ”the worst president we’ve ever had.” His successes have not stopped conservative talking-heads from trashing our president’s accomplishments, or attacking his competency and intelligence. In a surreal display of disrespect and base hatred, many conservatives seriously questioned Obama’s birthplace and religion! The constant drumbeat on conservative outlets, like Fox News, has been talk of the failed Obama presidency. And, unfortunately, many subscribers to such “outlets of misinformation” swallow what they are fed on a regular basis.
Only a man with a deep reservoir of inner strength and peace could have withstood the constant disrespect and disguised racial hatred. I remember some Republican pundit claiming that Obama “was not one of us.” I didn’t realize this at the time but that right-wing windbag was actually correct. Barrack Hussein Obama is not one of us. He is not human. No human could have shown such poise and grace in the face of constant, unrelenting venom. For my money, Barack Obama is the coolest president this country has ever had. I mean that in every sense of the word but mostly I’m referring to his Zen-like sense of calm. Maybe he was not born in the United States. Maybe he was dropped from outer space?
The second time I cried during an Obama speech was the other day when the President delivered the eulogy for the slain South Carolina politician, Clementa Pinckney. The President’s words, once again, brought tears to my eyes. When he broke into his rendition of “Amazing Grace,” the droplets turned into a stream. I have never been more proud to be an American nor more grateful to have such a man as my president.