There’s a specific reason why President Obama’s approval ratings have yet again bounced above the 50 percent mark. Voters are beginning to witness a revealing contrast between the president we have and the presidents that could be next. Namely, observing the options of Trump or Bernie or Hillary has offered voters a perspective on the Obama presidency that wouldn’t have otherwise existed had it not been for the campaign.
But, of course, the president we see today is the same president we’ve seen throughout the last eight years. Ideology aside, party affiliation aside, there’s no denying that Obama has comported himself with the dignity and worldliness on the international stage required of great American leaders — traits which all presidents should possess by default, but which often don’t.
Take, for example, Anthony Bourdain’s six observations about his dinner with Obama over beer and bowls of Bun Cha, “a typical Hanoi dish,” in a working class section of the once embattled city. At the risk of sounding like a listicle headline, item #4 will make you smile.
The President is very comfortable with chopsticks. He handled the sticky, hard to separate noodles that accompany the pork and the broth components of Bun Cha skillfully. He even went in for seconds.
- The President is an Asiaphile. He spoke wistfully of his time in Indonesia and his memories of the smells and flavors of street food there.
- He clearly enjoyed sitting on a low plastic stool eating bun Cha. It felt to me like his night off. Even with Secret Service lurking nearby.
- The reaction among regular people in Hanoi to the fact that the US President chose to eat Bun Cha was beyond all imagining. The effect was unbelievable. People were actually crying the next day, describing to me their shock and their pride, the reactions of their neighbors, to this completely unexpected choice of meal—and the venue.
- He was among the very few guests on my show who ever asked the camera crew if they got to eat too. And he made a point of taking a picture with all of them when we were done.
- I believe he enjoyed that beer.
It’s difficult to name another modern president, living or dead, who would’ve sat down with Bourdain in the first place, but to do so in Hanoi and to have the kind of impact Bourdain described in #4 speaks volumes about Obama.
I wrote earlier that #4 would make you smile. Speaking for myself, it not only made me smile, it made me proud of my chief executive. Like so many other times, Obama has behaved in a way that’s made me — and us, as a nation, enjoy a sense of satisfaction. Despite some of the well-known hiccups and pitfalls in our political system, we successfully chose the right candidate to lead the free world. Twice.
Put another way, can you imagine Trump or Sarah Palin having this kind of respect for not only Bourdain’s crew, but for a working class Vietnamese joint like the one he visited with the Parts Unknown cast and crew? It’s easy, on the other hand, to imagine Trump or Palin completely embarrassing us in the same scenario, assuming they’d agree to appear with Bourdain in the first place. Not only would Trump insist upon using a fork instead of chop sticks, he’d likely blurt out something offensive about the Vietnam War while using the occasion to discuss how he’s a very terrific and very tremendous leader to eat among the little people. Something awful like that.
No, effectively using chop sticks while, as Bourdain observed, really enjoying a beer aren’t literal criteria for why Obama is a great president. In a conceptual sense, though, and taken as a whole, there can be no doubt that Obama possesses the character to make it all work. To be casual and comfortable on a plastic stool, eating a foreign meal next to Vietnamese locals and honoring them with his presence is exactly what it’s all about. This is the kind of outreach overseas that builds positive and long-lasting connective tissue between our various cultures, rather than bombing those cultures into submission.
More than anything else, let’s face it. Our president is fucking cool.
I honestly believe that Hillary Clinton will make a fine president and will carry on Obama’s legacy as best she can. I believe, too, that Bernie Sanders would’ve been a solid president. But, frankly, neither Democrat is in the same league as our current guy — a man of class, discipline and multiculturalism, an adventurous man who embraces the diversity of the world rather than walling it off behind a “big beautiful door.”