By Robert Covington
What are some of your immediate thoughts when you think of President Obama? I think of a man of enormous intellect with a genuine empathy and compassion for others that can be traced back to a life experience of humble beginnings, some privilege, loss, abandonment, trepidation, encouragement and experimentation with identity and purpose. What's resulted has been a permanent place in the annals of American history, a redefinition of what is possible and lamentable questions of what could have been.
Although his political and human legacy is still a work in progress, there are a few immediate conclusions that I have made about his presidency.
One, there will not be another African-American president, male or female in the near future. I don’t want this to be looked upon with acute sadness, despair or anger. Nor would I want this statement to be viewed as a setback on race relations, but clarity on it.
And more broadly, this moment is a progressive, reflexive point in our nation’s history. Obama’s election was a confluence of novelty, legitimacy, curiosity and hope. In terms of novelty, America has always developed a fascination and reverence with the idea of firsts. Our history is replete with examples of the unimaginable blossoming into the possible. People like Jackie Robinson, Neil Armstrong and the Wright Brothers were not only transformative through their brilliance, perseverance and ingenuity, they helped define a national character, a benevolent form of nationalism and helped a world believe in themselves, its capacities and interconnectedness.
President Barack Hussein Obama, for a time, mesmerized a world, captivated his fellow Americans and spearheaded a refreshing global conversation about the growth of American politics while in a subtle and masterful way, integrated healthy thoughts of black beauty, intelligence, elegance and nuclear family idealism through multiple layers of consciousness and belief systems.
President Obama didn’t transform politics, but he elevated what is possible for anyone in any field, occupation or endeavor. In terms of legitimacy, President Obama won a presidential election, twice, with the popular vote and the Electoral College, and it's up to historians and posterity to illustrate and exhaustively examine the many reasons for his electoral success. But at least the discussion will not have any political clouds that all too often taint elections here and around the world. Legitimacy reigns supreme.
Once elected, the country turned to curiosity and hope. Part of the allure and curiosity of President Obama was his youth, his political newness, the inexactness or lack of clarity on many positions outside of the Iraq War and healthcare, along with no clear and sustained philosophy regarding the role of government beyond what I believe is his fundamental belief in its goodness, given thoughtful stewardship. This, along with his instinct for conciliation in a political arena that favors confrontation, disciplined persistence and distinction, his voice and power became muted and questioned by his allies and enemies and forever impacted his presidency.
Conciliation is not a good match when faced with the opposing party’s disdain and commitment to your failure. Conciliation works best when the opposition knows it is beaten or fears it can be beaten. The opposition never feared Obama and curiosity, for some, turned into disappointment. In this instance, President Obama taught us that biographies matter. If you really want to understand me, read and know what influenced me, who inspired me, angered me, educated me, molded me, hated me, questioned me and loved me. Look deeply and the answers to my governance will be revealed.
Lastly, Obama’s consistent message of hope before and during his presidency will be enduring because history always looks favorably when appeals to our hearts, minds and dreams attempts to bring out the best in us, regardless of circumstance. Obama understood this from the very beginning. President Obama taught us, rather reminded us, to find our hopes and dreams ultimately within ourselves. And while doing that, to connect our individual skills and contributions to a greater good.
That life is fragile, unpredictable, tragic, and amazing. Don’t waste time.
His entrance into our lives generated so many emotions that go way beyond policy. Much of those same feelings will remain beyond his presidency because his best gifts and talents were not meant for the highest levels of politics, as we can see. Nevertheless, I’m excited about life’s next chapter for our president.
Robert Covington is a writer of political, social, life and cultural issues. Trained Social Worker, Mental Health Therapist, Clinical management.