Sunday, February 7, 2016
One observation of President Obama as he completes his presidential term is amazement at his ability to remain spiritually centered during eight years of personal, hateful, attacks. Over the course of the past eighteen months, the President has been less constrained in his comments on racial and gender inequities. He is able to address, in action as well as speech, issues that he may have avoided or minimized when facing re-election.
But even if the President were not now loudly promoting equity for the culturally marginalized and other human rights, I would honor him for a significant personal and public achievement. Against odds, he is leaving office a centered man.
While sometimes his frustrations with the political process leaked through, grace has been his hallmark response when criticized or stonewalled. As with all presidents, he has aged notably. As with his predecessors , this President has experienced responsibilities that were not imagined during his first campaign. The responsibilities are humbling. President Obama acknowledged that daily briefings on the extent of terrorist activities has softened some of his criticisms of his immediate predecessor. Nursing the economy back to stability has taken patience and persistence in the face of public and congressional criticism.
While these pressures may seem extraordinary to us, they are ordinary for presidents. What has been unusual for this President was the unreasonable, aggressive opposition he experienced not because of his political choices but because of who he is: a black man in what is often considered the most powerful position in the world. Racism trumps reason. Times over the past seven years when Congress came together to act in the best interests of the country can barely be sussed out. For many, the exclusive agenda was to undo the black man. Mission not accomplished.
Dignity has been a recurring theme on this blog. Dignity is the cornerstone of human rights work. Justice Kennedy's invocation of dignity in Obergefell v. Hodges has been pondered by our bloggers. No matter what our political criticism and differences, we would be missing an opportunity to recognize personal dignity if we do not honor the President's ability to maintain his own under incredible pressure. While no doubt the attacks have caused him personal strain, President Obama's centered leadership model in spite of the strain has been a singular accomplishment of his administration.
As noted at the time, awarding the Nobel Prize for Peace early in his presidency was premature. The sentiment supporting the award may have been for the singular and amazing accomplish of being elected while black. The award might have carried more significance if given at the end of the President's term for his ability to maintain peaceful leadership within our country despite what many consider a war on him.