In the midst of the 2016 presidential election circus, I’m beginning to realize how much I’ll miss President Barack Obama.
This yearning welled up in me during his valedictory State of the Union speech. The president channeled the collective wisdom of many of his predecessors to remind us of who we are and what our country at its best has aspired to.
Like Teddy Roosevelt, he asserted our strength. Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he dispelled our fears. Like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, he championed fairness for all. Like George Washington, he warned of foreign entanglements.
Like Ronald Reagan, he expressed confidence in our future. He echoed Abraham Lincoln in encouraging us to follow the better angels of our nature. He touted our diversity as only Barack Obama can.
He challenged the claims of chaos and decline purveyed by the GOP presidential candidates. He warned of the danger of reckless rhetoric. He also conveyed several important lessons, including one that ended on a note of impatience:
“We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis … even if it’s done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam. It’s the lesson of Iraq, and we should have learned it by now.”
I don’t think any president has ever been so blunt in admitting our failures. I’m proud of President Obama for giving us this reality check. His reluctance to commit ground troops to Syria or against ISIS is clearly informed by the lessons of previous military misadventures. Will our next president exercise such restraint?
The usual critics complained that the president’s speech was a triumph of style over substance. I disagree. His speeches are remarkable for both style and substance, evidenced by the examples I’ve cited. In times of crisis, is there anyone more steady and thoughtful? After Obama, do we really want to go back to a shoot-from-the-hip president?
Pundits already are writing post-mortems on his presidency. The common theme is of promise unfulfilled.
I’m disappointed about some things. I wish he had been more aggressive about his proposals during his first years in office when there were Democratic majorities in Congress. I wish he hadn’t offered so many concessions, especially in the case of the Affordable Care Act.
But I am grateful to the president for many things. He nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. He continually spoke up for LGBT rights and endorsed same-sex marriage, which became the law of the land on his watch. He championed women’s rights, including the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. Will the next president veto attacks on reproductive rights as President Obama has?
The president stabilized the economy after the 2008 crash. He restored our reputation abroad after the belligerent Bush-Cheney era. He dared to pursue normalized relations with Cuba and Iran. He re-engaged with the international community in efforts to stem global warming and imposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants here at home.
I am really going to miss President Obama. I’m confident he will have as distinguished a post-presidency as Jimmy Carter, and I think history will look kindly on his lifetime of achievements.