Obama and Me

I believe it was in 2004 when Barack Hussein Obama first came onto my radar.  Some news channel was airing a clip of his speech at the DNC convention and in my heart I “heard” that this man would become President someday.  If you are not religiously oriented I am sure that sounds absolutely absurd but it is the truth and I am sticking to it.  At the time, he was a relatively unknown state senator from Illinois so I was pleasantly surprised when he won the 2008 presidential campaign, not because I voted for him because I didn’t, but because what I had “heard” had come to pass.

2008 was a tough election year for me. I generally vote for the presidential candidate with the most executive experience but that year the two major candidates were both U.S. Senators since Obama had moved from the Illinois senate to the big show and McCain had been in office since George Washington was president.  (chuckle)  I basically prefer governors because senators are people who do a lot of talking but they don’t actually run anything.  Since the president is the chief “executive” it only makes sense to vote for somebody who is an executive rather than a speech-giver.  No matter who won that election I knew that we were going to have somebody sitting in the big chair in the oval office who was in over their head and would have to surround themselves with experienced executives to actually run the country for them.  I think 2008 was the first time I voted for a third party candidate and now I don’t vote for any presidential candidate who isn’t third party for reasons that I won’t discuss now.

When President Obama took office this was his resume of work experience…

1)  Business International Corporation 1983-1984
2)  New York Public Interest Research Group 1984-1985
3)  Community Organizer in Chicago 1985-1988
4)  Student at Harvard Law School 1989-1990
5)  Student President of the Harvard Law Review publication 1990
6)  Civil Rights Attorney with Judson Minor Law Firm 1991-2000
7)  Part-time Teacher of constitutional law at Chicago University 1992-2004
8)  Illinois State Senator 1997-2004
9)  Lost the Democratic primary for election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000
10)  U.S. Senator 2004-2008

As you can see, when Obama took office in 2004 he was not just an inexperienced executive, he was extremely inexperienced and I was deeply concerned because of it.  When he was at the Minor law firm he didn’t run anything but he was part of a team for nine years.  I think that helped him to develop an executive style in the presidency that was somewhat effective.  I believe he owes his chief of staff Valerie Jarrett a huge debt of gratitude in this regard because she brought an organizational skill set to the team that was desperately needed.

Even if he was short on executive experience he was long on inspiration and he captured the hearts and minds of especially young Americans in the 2008 campaign that propelled him to the White House.  He was a great public speaker and his message of hope and change was a welcome relief after years of war under President George W. Bush.  He was the right man at the right time.

Much is made of him because he was our nation’s first black president.  I completely understand the level of pride that Americans of African ethnicity feel concerning his election and I have no desire to offend them but I have never seen Barack Obama as black.  To my way of thinking, to say that you are black is to say that you are descended from the American slave population brought in from Africa.  Sometimes we use the term “black” very generally in describing anyone of African ethnicity but I have personally witnessed  Caribbean immigrants and African immigrants that aren’t as strongly connected to that term as our native citizens descended from the former population of slaves.  Some even go so far as to distance themselves from the term “black” due to strong differences in culture.  To me, Barack Obama is our first bi-racial president, his mother being a “white” American of European ethnicity and his father a “black” African from Kenya.  The reality is that Obama has no blood connection to the descendants of “black” American slaves which is a fairly big deal for me.  I am still waiting for and excited to see the descendant of somebody who was once considered nothing more than property ascend to the highest elected office in our country.  That will be an amazing day for the American Dream and I am hoping that I will see it in my lifetime.  Do you think I am splitting hairs?  Barack Obama did not grow up in the proverbial “hood” or in the “burbs.”  He had a very unorthodox upbringing for an American citizen, much of it spent overseas which has shaped him in ways far different than if he had grown up in my neighborhood outside of Syracuse, NY.

Here is Barack Obama’s childhood in a nutshell…

1)  Born in Hawaii August 1961, his mother a 19 year old white American, his father a 25 year old black Kenyan foreign student
2)  His parents were married in February of 1961 and separated in late August the very same month he was born of that same year.  Barack was less than a month old.
3)  Autumn 1961 his mother moves herself and Barack to Seattle because she enrolled as a student at the University of Washington.  Barack was a newborn.
4)  His mother leaves the university after one year.  Barack was a one year old baby.
5)  His mother meets Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian foreign student in geography at the University of Hawaii in 1963 and they start dating.  Barack was a two year old baby.
6)  His parents officially divorce in 1964 and his father moves back to Kenya where he gets married again.  Barack was a three year old toddler.
7)  His mother and Soetoro get married in 1965.  Barack is a four year old toddler.
8)  His stepfather moves back to Indonesia without him and his mother in 1966.  Barack was a five year old child.
9)  His mother and he move to Indonesia in 1966 to rejoin his stepfather.  Barack was a six year old child.
10)  Barack attends a Catholic school in Indonesia from 1967 to 1968 where classes are taught in the Indonesian language.  He is there from the age of six to seven.
11)  He is then moved into an Indonesian public school where he is taught in the Indonesian language for one and half years and then eventually home schooled in English by his mother until he is ten years old.
12)  In 1971 his mother sends him back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents while she stays in Indonesia.  Barack is a ten year old child.
13)  His grandparents use a scholarship to send him to the most expensive private school in Hawaii in 1971.  He is educated among the children of some of the wealthiest people in Hawaii.  Today it costs about $22,000 a year.  He is ten years old as he enters the fifth grade and he is known by the name Barry.
14)  In 1972 his mother moves back to Hawaii to study anthropology at the University of Hawaii.  Barry moves out of his grandparents home and lives with his mother and a half sister.  Barry is eleven years old.
15)  In 1975 his mother moves back to Indonesia for the next two decades to begin her field work in anthropology.  Barry stays in Hawaii and moves back in with his grandparents.  He is fourteen years old.
16)  In 1979 Barry graduates high school.  He is eighteen years old.
17)  Later that year in 1979 Barry moves to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College.
18)  In 1981 he transfers to the Ivy League school Columbia University, he is twenty years old.
19)  In 1983 he graduates from Columbia with a bachelor’s degree.  I could not determine when he went back to being known as Barack, perhaps when he first went to college in Los Angeles.  He is 22 years old when he graduates and you already know his work resume that begins in 1983.

I have shown you all of this because I think that it is important for you to understand the unstable family and living situation that he was raised in which is perhaps why he is such a dedicated husband to Michelle and good father to his two daughters.  He has used his life to give them something he never had, stability and a feeling of being at home.  I deeply identify with Barack Obama on this level because I too come from a broken home and I too have had a very long relationship with my wife stemming back to the 9th grade in high school.  Broken homes don’t always result in broken adults.  Sometimes they result in adults that cling to family relationships tighter than they would have had they come from a stable background.  The other thing that is important to glean is that he is not a continental American but rather a man of the Indonesian world and the pacific islands, specifically the wealthy cultural segment of Hawaii.  He would be a very different man had he spent his entire life growing up in a neighborhood in Peoria, Illinois and I think this helps explain a lot of his behavior as President concerning international policy and his identity as an American.  I don’t believe it is unfair in the least to describe him as our first foreign raised President.

So now we come to Barack Obama as President of the United States.  I intended to outline his successes and his failures that include a substantial number of broken promises but now that we are here I don’t have the heart to do it.  If you are interested you can Google “Obama Broken Promises” and see for yourself.    All I will say is that he promised to transform America.  “Ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, make this time different than all the rest” is what he spoke in 2008.  He promised to slow the rise of the oceans, put an end to wars and heal political divisions in the United States.  “Hope and change” is what he advertised but after eight years there really wasn’t all that much change and those that once hoped are now despairing with the election of Donald J. Trump.  The oceans are still on the rise, we are still mired in war around the world and the political and social landscapes are devastatingly divided.  He made a total of 510 campaign promises which is striking when you compare them to George W. Bush’s 177 and Bill Clinton’s 204.  He set a very high bar for his administration, perhaps too high of a bar and unrealistic.  I am tempted to label my President a failure and especially in the area of improving race relations but I will not.  If there is one thing that he accomplished it was the transformation of the American mindset concerning health insurance for all of our citizens and I am one of the transformed.

When he was elected in 2008 most of America was opposed to universal health insurance as orchestrated by Federal law.  To be completely honest, he and his party shoved the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) down the throats of the American people like a bad tasting but much needed medication.  I wasn’t for it then but like millions of other Americans I have come to see that the time is right for universal health insurance.  It is the compassionate choice.  In 2008 the Republicans were dead set against the idea.  Flash forward to 2017 and even though they control the presidency and both houses of congress they are talking about replacing NOT eliminating Obamacare.  That is a massive shift in mindset in just eight short years and this is the true legacy of Obama.  Because he failed to make deals with the Republican controlled congress, most of his presidential agenda was enacted via executive orders rather than changes in law.  President Trump is going to be able to wash away the vast majority of Obama’s eight years of work with a couple strokes of his own pen.  If you live by the executive order, you will also die by it and Obama’s work is going to die except universal health insurance, the one thing that was encoded into the American landscape by law.  Make no mistake about it.  The Republicans are going to destroy Obamacare and replace it with something that they think works better but keep in mind that we will still have universal healthcare coverage of some form in the United States and I expect from this time forward we always will have.  They won’t call it Obamacare but it will still be the child of its father.

There will be those who will apologize for the ineffectiveness of President Obama citing obstruction by the Republicans.  It is entirely true that they obstructed him just as the opposition party should.  It is that obstructionism that guarantees balance in our political system and forces powerful politicians to compromise.  Obama came into office billing himself as the “progressive Reagan” but unlike Reagan who never fully controlled the government but was able to work with the opposition, Obama had complete control of the Federal government for the first two years of his Presidency but got very little done other than healthcare.  His vision for healing the political divisions passed away as quickly as his party’s control of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections.  As a result, for the last six years of his presidency he resorted to issuing temporary executive orders rather than finding middle ground with Republicans to pass new laws.  Partisanship can be like a contagious disease and as it turned out in the end, this once hopeful President was not immune.

I hope this article has helped you to understand the outgoing President a little better and like me, hopefully you can find things to be thankful for, changes that sustain your hope.  I would like to close by reprinting my Facebook farewell post for the 44th President of the United States.

Thank you President Obama, my president, for 8 years of service to our country. As I compare pictures of you today to pictures from 2009 I am disturbed by the toll that your time in office has had on your visage. The weight of your responsibilities has permanently changed you and I am humbled by your sacrifice.

I greatly desired to sit down with you over one of those beers that you have been brewing in the White House and talk to you about some of the many things we have disagreed about over the years but alas, time has run out for both of us. I guess it doesn’t really matter. We don’t need to be in complete agreement; just wise enough to realize that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us and in that spirit I want to say again, “Thank You.” God’s speed and great blessings on the rest of your life.

A friend of mine dubbed me “The voice of reason in a very unreasonable world” which I am flattered by because I am less than that.  Having said that, if you enjoyed my writing I invite you to scroll to the very bottom of this page where there is a button labeled “Follow”.   If you press that button you will receive a notification whenever this blog is updated with new posts.  Thank you for reading.



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