Positions of authority are always a precarious balance. Ask any teacher, police officer, or even dorm monitor about the balance of being oneself and projecting authority. I can only imagine how this feels for our presidents, whose words make stock markets quake and world leaders take notice.
We prepare now for the mantle of power to move from one man to another.
In Obama’s farewell address, I was moved as much by what was said as what was not. Here we have a man who suffered through years of vile, “show me your papers” rhetoric. A man who, in 8 years, has rarely let down his guard to emotionally show how frustrated he was with opposition. I’m sure he would have loved to get into disagreements with his opponents over ideas and mechanisms, policies and processes, and let the mechanics of government play out in the space of ideas.
Instead, he got an even further polarized American base, a Congress that has never bothered to meet him halfway, and finally the instruction to hand over the keys to the Oval Office to one of the architects of the birther strategy against him.
Maybe Obama’s grace comes from having worked in politics for longer than my 0 years and understanding how to let it roll off his shoulders. Maybe it’s that he’s keenly aware that showing weakness would have played into the rhetoric that he’s not fit to be our president. Or maybe he’s got a better support system and has a better handle on his life overall than I do.
And, showing the great depths of his empathy, he GETS THAT. He understands what it’s like for us, the non-presidents with our ordinary lives and ordinary problems, to worry, to fear, and to despair. Although his critics deride his farewell remarks as flattering and self-serving, I found them anything but. They were a clear message to the power of everyone else who came to see him and hear him.
I find them a reminder that if he can move forward and onward each and every day of his presidency, surely I can confront what torments me. Surely I can do the hard and self-effacing work of continuing, of standing fast, and believing.
I have a hunch that, once freed from the obligations of the presidency, we’re going to see a much more human side of Obama than we have been able to in the past. But Mr. Obama, for those rare glimpses when you were a father, a husband, and a friend as much as a president, I thank you.