As happy and proud as I am of Hillary Clinton for the woman she is, the things she has accomplished and the history she just made, I cannot but be sad at the prospect of her replacing Barack Obama in the White House. I know she is capable. I know she is the right one for the job…but these last few months of 2016 will be bittersweet for me.
I ran across this story by David Phillips that expresses these feelings so well for I too, cannot wrap my head around Barack Obama no longer being MY President…
It’s hard to believe in another person. Hell, it’s hard to believe in yourself. Twelve years ago I started to believe in a person. I started to believe in a politician. As foolhardy a faith as has ever been invented. People let you down, man. Politicians make it into an art. But I was right to do so, damn it. I was right. Watching my President summon all of his oratorical excellence and distill it into one fantastic burst of spoken word magic last night made me sure of that. The funny thing is it made me a little sad. In fact, it hurt like hell.
Let me explain.
I am 45 years old. I was born on the side of a mountain in a small coal mining town in Kentucky called Pikeville. It’s not a place to foster dreams and imagination. It’s a place to escape. My biological grandfather died before I was born from black lung. My favorite uncle would one day follow suit. My mother had me when she was 16. My biological father was out of the picture prior to my birth. I have never met him. My mother took me out of the commonwealth when I was four and we settled in a small town in Michigan, just north of the Indiana border. She married an alcoholic and we learned how to survive for 9 years. We did not learn how to hope.
Over time, I made something modestly successful out of myself. I put myself through college. It took awhile (7 years), but I did it. I was the first in my family line to do so. I figured out a way to make a living. I’ve become a fairly decent manager. I’m proud of those things. When it came to politics, I was pretty much a half-assed liberal who never really stepped into the arena. I voted. I paid some attention. I became a Democrat under Clinton, and a deep cynic under Bush. The first four years of W–the salad days compared to his 2nd term–made me so much more aware of how government affected my life. Like most, I wasn’t crazy about John Kerry, but I was ready for him.
What I was not prepared for was the skinny guy with a funny name who strode up confidently to the dais at the Democratic Convention in Boston on July 27, 2004. Due to my proximity to Chicago, I was reasonably aware of Barack Obama. Enough to even be a little jazzed. I had no idea what I was in for. By the time he had left the stage it was as if I had left the ground. “He’s going to be President” I said aloud to no one in particular. I later found out I wasn’t the only one who had that thought enter their mind and pass through their lips.
Fast forward four years later. Kerry had lost. Iraq had quagmired. An American city had drowned. The floor disappeared underneath the economy. I would have voted for a jackalope instead of a republican. So sure, I was fine with Hillary. When Obama unexpectedly joined the fray, I had to reassess. Was my 2004 prediction ready? He was so young. So new. So relatively inexperienced. He was also black and had the middle name of a dictator and a last name that rhymed with the first name of a terrorist. Was the country ready? Was I ready? I hoped. More than I had in a long time. Maybe ever. Then he began to win. For the first time in my life, I was all in. I attended rallies (missing a handshake by about 2 feet–still hurts), gave money, made calls, persuaded friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers as I wore out my shoe leather knocking on doors and registering voters.
It was hard enough beating Hillary Clinton. It seemed like it should be easier beating John McCain. That poor soul who gave up his dignity and hugged his mortal enemy, George W. Bush, and then selected the most nonsensical running mate in the history of the union. It didn’t feel that way though. Maybe it was inevitable, but every step felt grudging.On the night of November 4, 2008, I watched the returns come in from the literal edge of my seat. Doing electoral math in my head as each state’s results came in. Keeping score as the night went on, I realized before the West Coast came in he was going to be President. California, Oregon, Washington, were all going to land on his side. It was just arithmetic and waiting at that point. And then I started to cry.
I never cry. Sure, I well up. I get emotional. I might even have to wipe an eye from time to time. But unless a dog dies, I do not weep. That night, I wept.
Over the next eight years, I learned a lot about the limits of politics. Campaigns are about the impossible. Governing is about the possible. The two simply do not align. Obama and I would have disagreements over policy, Afghanistan, the NSA, immigration. And though I never doubted his character, I sometimes doubted his capacity to overcome the obstacles before him. Before us. Sometimes I was right. Gun control being a particular example. So may times though, I was wrong. Under the stewardship of Barack Obama, the auto industry was saved. The economy was pulled back from the brink. Over ten million people gained access to health care. Gays and lesbians came closer to full equality. Women saw the unfairness of their wages, comparable to that of a man’s, addressed. The ledger has both debits and credits, but on balance, it is beyond the rational considering where we once were when he walked into the oval office in January of 2009
Yes, we have far to go, but come far we have. This distance has been traveled despite extraordinary intransigence from the republican opposition that questioned his loyalty, his faith, and his birthright. Often in bald, racist terms. I was not alive to see what Jackie Robinson suffered through when he integrated baseball, but I was able to understand what it must have been like through the Presidency of Barack Obama. The first black President could not afford to show rage, to be too ethnic, to be too “black”. The weight must have been like carrying a 60 pound stone. Carry it, Robinson did. As did Obama. The inner resolve required is breathtaking.
So much has changed in these last eight years. For the man. For the country. For me. I changed jobs. I lost friends. My marriage failed. In hard times you look for things to hold onto. To be steady. Let there be something in your life that remains constant. Through troubles both personal and political, that has been Barack Obama. I cannot wrap my head around the idea of him no longer being my President.
Last night, the man who I put so much belief in gave the speech of his life for his former rival, later employee, and now friend, Hillary Clinton. It was majestic and vindicating. It was also a little heartbreaking. On January 17, 2017, Barack Obama will cease to be my President.
For all its glory, last night felt like the beginning of a long goodbye. It’s not going to be nearly long enough.