by Bob Cesca
You caught me at an odd time in my political writing career. Early in 2007, I resigned myself to believing that Hillary Clinton would easily march to the nomination the following year since no one really had the machine nor the charisma to upend her campaign, save for one guy and it was unclear whether he'd actually run. It was even less clear whether he'd win. While Barack Obama dazzled the left during his 2004 DNC keynote speech, known popularly as "The Audacity of Hope," it was unclear whether an African-American man with the middle name "Hussein" would be viable, even within the allegedly open-minded Democratic Party.
I was with Hillary until early November, 2007 when I heard Obama deliver his address at the famous Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa. It was not unlike his 2016 DNC remarks, delivered with an epic rhetorical style we'd only seen in movies. I realized that night, not only could Obama win the nomination, but he had a serious shot at becoming the next president -- and with the same flair John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt brought to the office. More importantly, it motivated me to buy his books and to decide whether I should formally endorse him in my Huffington Post column. The following month I wrote my endorsement without hesitation, not fully realizing that I was in for an eight year journey that'd hardly ever be easy.
As I researched and wrote, I quickly learned that in terms of talent, worldview and temperament, he was just about exactly what I had always considered to be presidential material, yes, but so much more. He represented almost precisely what I've always looked for in my admittedly romantic view of the office but never quite landed upon, especially given the roster of unremarkable nominees the Dems have fielded since 1968 -- save for Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, of course. While Obama and I have different approaches to persuasion and, obviously, different backgrounds and aspirations, he speaks to me. Not in a creepy fanatical way, but specifically in the way people tend to connect with friends and role models. Something about Obama clicked into place for me. Weirdly, perhaps we're on the same cosmic plane. In political insider terms, he's "my guy" -- the only president I will feel this way about. I understand him. There's something about his pragmatism, his Herculean restraint -- his "American cool," as the great Charlie Pierce wrote this week -- that's linked me to this utterly badass politician.
I remember repeating to myself early on, and it happened again Thursday night: "Thank fuck he's a Democrat."
This, I'm sure, will never happen again. Not for me. Hence, my lede.
Like the president, I don't consider myself an ideologue. I tend to evaluate each issue on merit and the facts culled from reliable sources, and I formulate my positions through careful analysis rather than gut reactions or The Feels. (I hope in some way this fastidious process is evident in my work.) Likewise, Obama isn't a disciple to a menu of platform planks. Outside of his obligations as the leader of his party, he's a practical thinker who eschews blind allegiances at the expense of making progress. His willingness to compromise has always been driven by an understanding of how America was both founded and has evolved on the ideal of compromise. The left has routinely hated him for it, but with the exception of a select list of positions on which he's been unwavering, his greatest successes emerged from compromise: thwarting the Great Recession, saving the auto industry -- especially passing Obamacare. In the decades to come, Democrats at all points along the spectrum will speak of Obama and his successes with reverence, even though one group of Democrats or another despised him at the time.
And there I was, fighting back against the doubters and the "Kill the Bill" contrarians throughout the Obamacare fight and onward, staking my reputation on the success or failure of Obama's presidency -- all the while trying hold fast to my personal mandate to remain an independent thinker not beholden to the party or its leader in the Oval Office. Throughout it all, I approached each story emanating from the White House with a sense of empiricism and intellectualism, but, at the same time, I realized that if the president crashed-and-burned, it'd be nearly impossible for me to save face. So, yes, I've done my share of self-preservation and cheerleading for the president. Though, throughout it all, Obama continued to earn my (objective) loyalty.
I've only facetiously identified as an "Obamabot" by way of taking the piss out of those who've wielded it as an insult. While, again, I never write by automation, I'm also not inclined to alter my view because it's the same as the president's, as other leftist writers have tended do, making them "bots" of a different make. That said, knowing what I know now, and knowing how Obama will be deified on the left for the next century, go ahead --call me an Obamabot all you want. The question is: why aren't you?
Along those lines and beginning in early 2008, I failed to grasp why the far-left didn't immediately grapple onto Obama as its obvious progressive choice. Had Obama's progressive haters read his books or listened to him speak candidly, they'd realize Obama's much more liberal than he's given credit for. Regardless, he understands that he's not solely the president of the left, nor is he self-indulgent about his personal values, forcing them onto others without thought. This has made Obama a perennial frenemy of the progressive movement -- a movement, by the way, that's partially occupied by intransigent, childish, uncompromising Bernie-or-Busters today, a faction that's, by it's very nature, anti-Obama. When I published an article during the 2008 primaries wondering aloud why progressives were pushing John Edwards over Obama, the blogger "Atrios" (aka. Duncan Black) designated me the "Wanker of The Day" for that particular article. It was the first of many insults from progressives who, by the way, likely had tears in their eyes during Obama's DNC address this week, and who, going forward, will likely reference Obama as the greatest president in modern history. Funny how things change.
It took me a while, but I fully understand why the left didn't tether its wagon to this guy in the same way they had with Edwards or, before him, Howard Dean -- over even someone like Paul Wellstone or Bernie Sanders. He's just as personally progressive as other leftist darlings, and he had the rhetorical chops and temperament to sell those ideas to moderates and undecideds, making him an electoral juggernaut. I suppose what ultimately turned off the left from vocally defending Obama was his practicality, his sense of responsibility and his ability to make peace with unpopular decisions. Frustratingly, the left would rather self-destruct than embrace realpolitik.
He's no pacifist, that's for sure, but he's not reckless, either. Nevertheless, the left was all too willing to characterize him as a baby-killer due to his sanctioning of drone attacks in the war on terrorism, despite the far-right's polar-opposite characterization of Obama as an effete apologist to radical Islam. He was also pilloried by the Greenwald left for the NSA's secret eavesdropping programs -- another topic where I happened to have lined up with the president and was subsequently trolled on my left flank. (Funny how, given its status as the biggest story of 2013, the NSA was never really brought up in the Democratic primaries -- even by Bernie Sanders.)
The president said Thursday night, "America, you've vindicated that hope these past eight years." Likewise, Obama has vindicated those of us who saw more in him than just an historically great orator and the first African-American president -- those of us who've staked our reputations on writing about his work. We all know the list of success stories, beginning with rescuing the economy from a second Great Depression -- a success for which I'm personally very grateful, given how I was caught in the throes of every possible recessionary cyclone. Most importantly, I have affordable, quality health insurance today because of Obama. My standard of living and my employment status as a writer has benefited from the growing economy. Personally, I'm doing just fine and, by a factor of a thousand, I'm profoundly better off than I was eight years ago. Profoundly. Based on nearly every economic indicator, and contrary to the lies of the Clown Dictator Trump, millions upon millions more are better off, too.
Beyond the successes, though, Obama introduced a nearly unprecedented level of dignity to the office. Unlike most chief executives, No Drama Obama has been free of personal scandals. He's a role model in so many ways, including and especially as a family man. (A quality and level of discipline I was never quite able to reach and retain myself.) And yes, he's been able to inspire not just Americans, but people around the world with his once-in-a-lifetime talent for writing and delivering the kind of oratory I never thought I'd witness outside an episode of The West Wing. Based on the expectations of rational thinkers, he's perhaps the greatest all-around president we've ever seen, short of Lincoln. Fox News bubble-dwellers be damned. Their subconscious-to-four-alarm racism will never allow them to see this president the way he deserves to be viewed, and they've missed out.
So, not for the last time, I'll say, "Thank you, Mr. President."
Thank you for vindicating my work, my votes and my trust that you wouldn't let us down. More importantly, thank you for risking your career to literally resuscitate my life when it was in desperate freefall due to factors beyond my control. May history regard you with similar benevolence. You've absolutely earned it.