Once, during the early years of the George W. Bush administration, I parked my car on Capitol Hill. I noticed next to me a bumper sticker on the neighboring car. It said, simply, “I Miss Bill.” The contrast between the Clinton years and the subsequent administration were significant, both in substance and in tone. But even as I chuckled at how three words captured my mood, I knew Bill wasn’t coming back.
Well, it’s pretty near twenty years later. Bill is still not coming back, and neither is any other president. But I have to acknowledge that I do not remember the contrast between predecessor and successor being as profound then as I do now. I Miss Barack.
That may be a peculiar thing to say as the Trump administration enters its final rambunctious hours. But I have been listening to the memoir of the Obama presidency written by – and read by – the author himself in my daily walks around the neighborhood. I am surprised by a number of things.
First of all, I agree with less of his policy approach than I thought I did. He was a little too cautious for me. Second, though he was a fast learner, it’s pretty evident that he could have used a little more seasoning before he took charge of the country. Idealism has its place, but as we learned from his predecessor, the presidency is not a place for on-the-job training. Thirdly (and this is my conjecture), he reads more than he listens to people. I say it because he mispronounces some words as if he learned them from a book and not a conversation.
Hey, we survived these flaws, even if we suffered for some of them some of the time. And I know that some people celebrated anything Obama did, and some people trashed anything he did for reasons that didn’t always have to do with whatever it was he did. But you have waited long enough for an explanation of why I Miss Barack.
It’s the sheer humanity of the man.
Other than Sarah Palin and Mitch McConnell, Obama recognizes the good in everyone, even the people he criticizes. Too often for those who put him on a pedestal, not often enough for those who see only his faults, he is self-deprecating. He delights in those who challenge him. He admires those who are smarter than he is. He owns his mistakes.
He likes basketball (a lot). He is embarrassed by the trappings of the office. He cherishes his friends. He has a recurring dream that he is walking around a busy city neighborhood and nobody recognizes him – and says he is in heaven.
But most of all, he speaks lovingly and respectfully of his children and, especially, his wife. Especially his wife. He likes her more than basketball, admires her more than smart people, cherishes her more than his friends. And he worries about her and – wait for it – changes his behavior when he recognizes that it troubles her.
Yes, the man could give a speech. Yes, he was unflappable enough to go from the capture of Bin Laden to the White House Correspondents Dinner without missing a beat. Yes, he let Republicans yell at him. Yes, he tried to ignore the racist and nativist questions about his citizenship. Yes, the worst personal scandal in his eight years was sneaking cigarettes (until he stopped).
But more important, he is a man to admire personally. He is the kind of person I hope my children and grandchildren become. He is the kind of person against whom I can measure myself and be inspired to do better without resentment. He is the kind of person who embodies the American ideal.
We have had four years without a scintilla of those qualities. Go back and read my praise and see if the current occupant of the Oval Office has ever inspired you to be a better person on those terms. Not a more effective person, not a more successful person, not a more powerful person. A better human being.
I tried for four years to listen to supporters of President Trump to figure out what they saw in him. I even asked some of them, including more than one who professed a deep faith in God’s message of loving humankind so much that God sent us a redeeming child. One of them – no longer a correspondent of mine – answered, “I don’t want to have a beer with him, I just want him to support my positions.”
I Will Not Miss Donald.
The custom in this country is to make promises to yourself to be better than you are on December 31. A New Year’s resolution is about your internal resolve. Some have it, and others are more like me.
But another meaning of resolution is to fix something that is dissonant, something like “President of the United States” who is a “reprehensible example of humanity” by any and all noble standards.
Thanks, President Obama, for reminding me that it was not only possible but real. This is one New Year’s resolution I am confident will be kept.