The president we’ll miss
By Rick Holmes
Jan. 22, 2017
I don't want to talk about Obama legacy today, or his policies, or get too political. I don't want to get into an argument with Obama-haters. If that’s you, feel free to skip the rest of this column.
I want to talk, one last time, about Barack Obama, the man and president.
The man has talent. His greatest hits are a few clicks away for anyone who can use YouTube, and you should check them out, especially if you find this transition painful. You can find campaign speeches scholars will study for years, thoughtful ruminations before convocations of students and advocates, in-depth interviews with historians and journalists.
I miss having a president who speaks in complete sentences, arranged carefully into paragraphs. Obama's not afraid of nuance and complicated explanations. As one veteran of White House press conferences noted this week, "if you ask him a six-part question, you get a six-part answer."
For a policy wonk, Obama has amazing comedic timing. Watch his performances at the White House Correspondents' dinner. No president I've known could do a better stand-up routine or host a late-night show like Obama. What's just as important is his ability to laugh at himself.
The guy's got good taste. His presidential playlists on Spotify - White House staffers swear he picks all the tunes himself - are an eclectic mix of blues, jazz, rock, soul and folk suitable for most any party. He and Michelle have invited the giants of American music to perform at the White House, from the cast of "Hamilton" to the legends of country, gospel and soul. Look up "White House musical performances" and you can binge-watch through the first weeks of the Trump administration.
And let's face it: The dude's got cool. There was the time he nailed a fly buzzing around him in the middle of a TV interview, and the time he prefaced a speech by singing a pitch-perfect imitation of Al Green. He dresses cool, he walks cool, he talks cool. They might as well retire the "coolest president" trophy forever, now that Obama's left the stage.
He can sing and he can preach. Watch his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other victims of the Charleston church massacre, the one where he leads the congregation in "Amazing Grace." It can choke up the meanest partisan.
I already miss having a president who thinks before he speaks, who doesn't act rashly to satisfy the hunger of the 24/7 news cycle, who wants to hear from everyone in the room before making a decision, whose eyes are on the far horizon, not the next poll.
Every president has a powerful ego. But I miss having president who uses "we" more than "I," who shares credit graciously, who constantly reminds the people - and himself - that progress comes from all of us pulling together, not from the actions of one man.
From the beginning, Obama worried about the "bubble" that keeps presidents from direct contact with the people they govern. He resisted giving up his Blackberry. He insisted on regular date nights with Michelle. He had the staff charged with processing 10,000 letters a day pull out 10 a day for him to read. He often responded, in private and in public, to the ordinary citizens who reached out to him.
I already miss the Obama family. Michelle may be the most popular first lady ever, for good reason. She has combined issues advocacy with fun - gardening on the White House grounds, exercising with schoolkids, dancing with talk show hosts. Like her husband, Michelle can deliver powerful, emotional political speeches, but she's less aloof, more grounded.
The Obamas have been models for the nation of dignity, grace, humor and humility. I miss them already, and I worry about the new family that has come to occupy the White House. I'm sure I'm not alone.
The former president - not a phrase that comes easily - worries too. In his final days in office, he's both sounded the alarm about threats to American democracy and acknowledged that history often plays out with "two steps forward, one step back."
As always, Obama finds reassurance in the grand sweep of American history and the understanding that America's fate is ultimately in the hands of the people, not the leaders.
At his final press conference, he was asked what he told his daughters about this difficult transition. First, he said, he told them that "the only thing that's the end of the world is the end of the world."
"I believe in this country," he said, reassuring us, along with his daughters, with words we may need to remember in the days and years ahead.
"I believe in the American people," he said. "In my core, I think we're going to be OK."
Rick Holmes writers for GateHouse Media and the MetroWest Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook at Holmes & Co., and follow him @HolmesAndCo.