Today is not about what he did or did not do as President of the United States. That discussion (debate) will have to wait for another day. Today is about the man, his wife and their children; and why they’ll be missed.
It’s probably fair to say his 2008 win was not predicted, at least not when he first announced his candidacy. How could it have been? The young, relative newcomer was hardly a household name, even after he delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, although he did get a lot of tongues wagging about what might be, down the road.
I wonder, though, if anyone, including Barack Obama, ever expected “down the road” would come so quick.
But 2008 it was and it didn’t take long for America, and the rest of the world, to get caught up in his message of hope, to get swept away by the passionate, energetic senator from Chicago, the master orator with the Martin Luther King-esque delivery.
And the next thing we knew, Hillary Clinton was out; and Barack Obama was in. I watched him accept the nomination. It was goose bump making. For his inauguration I was in India. Before leaving I told my travel agent that I didn’t care where we’d be on “the” day, I had to watch the proceedings on TV.
As it turned out, we were pretty much at the end of our trip in Munnar, a remote hill station in Kerala (southern India). Our resort was on a tea plantation, 7500 feet above sea level and, unlike the rest of the spots we visited, where every hotel room had Wi-Fi and a flat-screen TV, technology was not quite as accessible at this more rustic locale.
However, there was one television, in a private room off the dining room, and the staff kindly obliged. It was 1:30 in the morning and, as it turned out, I wasn’t alone. With me were travelers from other parts of India, Germany, France, Japan, Australia and a couple of Americans who, like me, wanted to both witness, and be a part of, the historic moment.
There we sat, verklempt (Yiddish for emotional), watching it all unfold, as it happened, on
CNN. It’s a memory that will be with me forever.
Little did we know what a difference 24 hours would make. Because the Republicans had a plan to derail Obama’s presidency right from the start. And still worse are the vicious, cruel, slanderous and personal insults, innuendos, slurs, barbs and racist remarks that have been leveled, continuously, at the President, his wife Michelle and their girls.
Barack Obama was in office for barely two months when a New York tabloid published a cartoon that portrayed him as a monkey. A California mayor distributed a photo of watermelons on the White House lawn. A widely-circulated email referred to him as “the magic mulatto” and showed a cartoon of him with large ears and a wide nose.
This past spring Fox News had to disable the comments section of an article about Malia Obama because of readers posting racist comments. And the mayor of West Virginia was forced to resign after he called Michelle Obama “an ape in heels.”
Ahhh, and how can we forget the “birther movement,” which dates back much further than 2011, when Donald Trump started questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace. Or Trump accusing Obama of being “the founder of ISIS.”
The last eight years have hardly been America’s finest.
Through it all, however, this family has stood tall — resolute, proud, dignified. Never letting on how hurt, how insulted, how devastated, how disappointed and yes, how justifiably angry they must have been, may still be, may always be.
Michelle Obama explained it so profoundly: “When they go low” she said, “we go high.”
Easier said than done. But the Obamas showed us how. They showed their daughters. They showed America. They showed the world. And for that, for the honour, integrity, decency and grace they brought with them, for everything they did and all they tried to do, we owe them our gratitude, admiration and respect.
Then we’ll have the next four years to reflect upon all we lost when the Obamas left the White House for the very last time.