On Presidents’ Day, Appreciating Barack Obama

No other President – no other politician – in my lifetime has meant as much to me as Barack Obama. While I think policy is important and I agreed wholeheartedly with his agenda, it is more than that. And while, as Kevin Drum writes, Obama was very effective in office, being pleased with what what he accomplished is not a sufficient reason either. Nor is the historic nature of his presidency.

Part of my connection to Obama is simply part of being the same generation – I could identify with him in a way I haven’t with many other politicians. But, in the end, it comes from respecting his approach and style. Obama’s ability to be the responsible adult, to approach the world rationally, to deal with crises without overreaction, and to treat the public intelligently is what I want in a civic leader. He’s the first President I’ve known that made me think “I want to act like him.”

The anger and hatred Obama generated in parts of America (and very few other places in the world) still astonishes, enrages, and saddens me. I realize that roughly half of America opposes modern liberalism, but the personal vitriol against a leader who was so smart and dignified in office will go down in history as a huge mistake, a resurgence of the worst of America.

I’m not beyond acknowledging Obama’s flaws. Primarily among them for me was his separation from the rest of the political system. That’s not an issue of his avoiding glad-handing on the Washington circuit, but his inability to bring electoral victories for his party when he was not on the ballot. A more successful version of Obama would have left a much stronger party behind. Yes, that blames the Democrats’ deficiencies on Obama, but an effective party leader can build a deep bench and Obama did not do that.

On Presidents’ Day, I need to acknowledge how much Obama and his presidency have meant to me. I do not expect to find a politician who I can feel that way about again, simply because it is so unlikely for another successful politician to bring together the same set of skills. But this was a special eight years, an era of optimism and promise.

“Thank you, Barack Obama.”