Humanity of a Black President

No doubt this goes directly against the field I have chosen to enter, but I truly despise the fact that stagecraft is necessary to project issues at all, much less the importance of them. Throughout my short time as a writer and blogger, I have reluctantly begun to understand that acting, embellishment and other elements of theater are often necessary in crafting the way people at large think. 

This, I fear, has the potential to hamper my career as it progresses. As someone that up until recently was a card-carrying, raised-from-birth conservative, I truly believe that liberal public policy–taking care of the poor, protecting the rights of women and minorities, and infrastructure spending, to name a few–is not simply something that is the proverbial “right thing to do”; it is what is integral in the advancement of true progress of American culture, made much more imperative by the petulant, strident vehemence of conservatism, a movement hell-bent on bringing America to a form of anarchic, feudalistic rule. But I digress.

As I have been going through the book This Town, Mark Leibovich’s account of the Washington politico-journalist class in a constant state of gamesmanship and strategic self-importance, it has been hard to tell where the reality lies. In a place where the city is a stage for a country to pontificate over, shreds of humanity and truth are treated as gaffes, things that are shunned, or worse. 

President Barack Obama has been something of a hero in Leibovich’s tome, as one of the few people who remains a fierce opponent to this culture. In their highly anticipated sequel to their book Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin recall a moment which shows our President not as the weakling asked all the time why he “won’t lead”, or the Kenyan socialist Muslim interloper the Right cannot stand the sight of. Instead, we are given Barack Hussein Obama, II as what he has always been: human.

From New York magazine’s excerpts Saturday:

Obama didn’t flinch. “Guys, I’m struggling,” he said somberly. “Last night wasn’t good, and I know that. Here’s why I think I’m having trouble. I’m having a hard time squaring up what I know I need to do, what you guys are telling me I need to do, with where my mind takes me, which is: I’m a lawyer, and I want to argue things out. I want to peel back layers.”

“When I get a question,” he said, “I go right to the logical.” You ask me a question about health care. There’s a problem, and there’s a response. Here’s what my opponent might say about it, so I’m going to counteract that. Okay, we’re gonna talk about immigration. Here’s what I’d like to say—but I can’t say that. Think about what that means. I know what I want to say, I know where my mind takes me, but I have to tell myself, No, no, don’t do that—do this other thing. It’s against my instincts just to perform. It’s easy for me to slip back into what I know, which is basically to dissect arguments. I think when I talk. It can be halting. I start slow. It’s hard for me to just go into my answer. I’m having to teach my brain to function differently. I’m left-handed; this is like you’re asking me to start writing right-handed.

Heilemann and Halperin  go further:

All through his career, Obama had played by his own rules. He had won the presidency as an outsider, without the succor of the Democratic Establishment. He owed it little, offered less. He had ignored the traditional social niceties of the office, and largely resisted the media freak show, swatting away its asininities. He had refused to stomp his feet or shed crocodile tears over the BP spill, because neither would plug the pipe spewing oil from the ocean floor. He had eschewed sloganeering to sell his health-care plan, although it meant the world to him.

Now he was faced with an event that demanded an astronomical degree of fakery, histrionics, and stagecraft—and while he was ready to capitulate, trying to capitulate, he found himself incapable of performing not just to his own exalted standards but to the bare minimum of competence. Acres of evidence and the illusions of his fans to the contrary, Barack Obama, it turned out, was all too human.

And so is revealed the man I twice voted for: conflicted, pragmatic, and desirous of the unfiltered purity of truth. While a country yearns for vagaries with which to “drive the conversation”, we see a man wanting to govern, devoid of the style points and political drama. 

In times like these, this is refreshing to see. 


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