Can we pause for just a moment? Before we resume the partisan bickering. Before we return to assigning blame. Before we take our seats on the Trump train.
Can we take a minute to reflect on what we’ve just experienced? Could we have just witnessed one of the most dignified presidencies in modern American history?
Be honest. You may dislike his policies, reject his world view, even question his ancestry. But there is no denying that the Obama years were remarkable in the grace and integrity demonstrated by the First Family at virtually every twist or turn. Then there are the eight scandal-free years across an entire administration. Eight years! Are you kidding me?
Respected presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said the Obama presidency will go down as one of the most unimpeachable in American history. “When you rank presidents on ethical standards, Barack Obama’s the highest. He’s up there with some of our really great American leaders,” Brinkley said recently during a CNN appearance. Other esteemed presidential scholars such as Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin—people who measure presidencies in scores, not sound bites—have made similar statements.
As parents, we strive to set good examples for our children. In fact, setting a good example would be Point #1 in the Being A Good Parent Handbook, if there were such a resource. We also point to examples worth emulating. My wife and I pointed to the Obamas a lot.
During so many pivotal moments, so many heartfelt tragedies, the Obamas had just the right words, the appropriate tone. The President’s Selma Speech. Michele Obama’s speech last summer at the Democratic National Convention. But the one that stands out for me is President Obama’s 2015 eulogy in Charleston, S.C. (often referred to as the Amazing Grace Speech), after a white gunman killed a pastor and eight parishioners while they were attending church. It may be the most poignant presidential moment I’ve ever witnessed.
Minimize the power of oratory if you wish, but words do matter. And they’re especially effective when carefully chosen and skillfully delivered. Of course, as the first black president, whose very citizenry was questioned, his margin for error was narrow.
Back in 2009, my kids and I had the privilege of attending the momentous Obama-Biden appearance at the Wilmington Train Station as the two families made their way to Washington, D.C., to assume office. As you can see in the photo above, my two kids were quite young back then—13 and 10.
But the experience made quite an impression, and for the past eight years our kids have been tuned in to the actions of a president for the first time. Moving forward, the Obamas will be the standard by which they measure other presidencies. My wife and I take comfort in that.
It was Bill Clinton who said: “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”
For eight years, the Obamas provided us with powerful examples of leadership, friendship and kinship. Politics aside, we should all agree on that.