Let me begin this reflection by expressing my thanks and appreciation to President Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th president of the United States (2008-2016). As a citizen, I am thankful that he made himself available to serve in the difficult office of president for two terms; and, that he has served with ethical and moral distinction. Furthermore, I have appreciated his intellectual capacity, his skillful oratory, his talent as a community organizer, his commitment to family, his abiding faith, his audacious hope and his courageous leadership in the face of opposing currents.
After the fact, it was reported that a group of leading Republicans convened on the night of President Obama’s inauguration. Robert Draper notes that “they plotted out ways to not just win back the political power, but also put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.” In October of 2010, then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” From the beginning and throughout his tenure, President Obama swam against the current.
For President Obama, there was a steady stream of Republican opposition that caused the president to find himself “swimming” against the political currents. Any leader, of course, would prefer to travel with the current. The appropriate current would have been a flow of useful bipartisan legislation; instead, we have witnessed a significant flow of presidential executive orders in lieu of bipartisan legislation. Nevertheless, President Obama has stood tall, he has kept the faith, and he has remained hopeful.
As I reflect on President Obama’s two terms as president, the image of “tacking” or “coming about” comes to mind. Tacking, of course, is a very useful sailing maneuver that enables a sailing vessel to progress against less than favorable winds. As I understand it, a vessel turns its bow into the wind. This facilitates sailing as “the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other.” President Obama is to be commended for his courageous leadership in the face of certain Republican led opposition in the Congress. I have admired his ability at tacking. It is my observation that President Obama leaves a significant legacy that has been shaped on the anvil of opposition, even while swimming upstream against the current.
There is no need for me to catalog the matters that constitute the legacy of President Obama, because so many others have done this already. Rather, I would like to note the context in which the matters that constitute his legacy have been developed. The context from my perspective is Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of the “Beloved Community.” Dr. King envisioned a totally integrated society characterized by love and justice. Dr. King, although he understood that the “Beloved Community” had not yet been realized, remained a man of hope, and never stopped working for change.
President Obama in his farewell speech [Chicago] (January 11, 2017) said this: “It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss. This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.” When we come together in community, then we can make strides toward Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.
President Obama also said that we serve “to make people’s lives better, not worse.” He has been dedicated to making people’s lives better. The Affordable Care Act is a demonstration of this endeavor. More than 20 million people who previously did not have health insurance now have it. This stride toward universal health care benefits all Americans as we seek to provide good health care for all Americans. This effort can lead to a healthy nation of people.
A Beloved Community is a nation where all people are welcome and treated fairly. President Obama said: “So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.” So, we are reminded to work together as fellow citizens. Such cooperation is the nature of true community.
President Obama in his farewell speech reminded us that “it falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.” The challenge is for us to believe in our ability to bring about change.
The farewell speech ended with this plea: “I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written.” President Obama’s answer now is the same as it was eight years ago, “Yes We Can.”
I will remember President Obama as one who gave children, young people, adults and senior citizens an audacious hope for the future, and offered the challenge to live in community as brothers and sisters who are Citizens. What an awesome legacy that is couched in the content of his character.
Thank you, President Obama!