So he hasn't yet gotten Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell"—at least he's explicitly assured us he wants to, and he recently indicated his view on gay marriage could "evolve." And, yes, it did give me pause in December 2009 when he announced that he was sending more troops to Afghanistan, but here's the thing: Although he was criticized for taking too long to decide on that plan, I was reassured by his aversion to acting hastily. In general, when I hear the criticisms of Obama—that he's professorial or wonky or emotionally restrained, that he's willing to listen to various points of view, that he likes arugula—I often think, wait, those are supposed to be insults?
But, my fellow Americans, how quickly we forget! After an excruciating eight years of Bush, the thrill still hasn't worn off for me of once again having an intellectually nimble president, not to mention one who doesn't pride himself on going with his gut when it comes to foreign policy. Whenever I watched Bush speak extemporaneously, I'd feel alternately embarrassed by and for him. I'd be tempted to cover my eyes, as if watching a clumsy figure skater botching double Lutz jumps. And whenever I interacted with someone from another country, I'd feel compelled to mention that I hadn't voted for Bush.
But when I see Obama on television, I'm unfailingly struck by his intelligence and charisma, by his easygoing humor, by the magnificence of his megawatt smile. He just makes me proud, and perhaps this is where I should admit that if there are two categories of Obama critics—conservatives who never liked the guy and have in some cases become unhinged since he was elected, and centrists or Democrats who voted for him but now feel let down—I suspect that, in the visceral nature of my response to our president, I have more in common with the unhinged nut jobs. By this I mean that my Obama admiration is a kind of emotional inverse of the right-wing Obama antipathy: I can pretend it's all about policy, but in truth, it's much more personal. Where his detractors dislike him because of, say, that Muslim vibe he gives off, I like him for similarly nebulous, albeit slightly more factual reasons.
I like that he's married to—and seemingly still quite taken with—a strong, opinionated, gorgeous woman, and that he has two ridiculously cute daughters. I like his mind-bendingly multicultural extended family. I like that in a campaign interview in Glamour magazine, he could fluently and unabashedly talk about Pap smears. I thought that the beer summit of 2009 was delightful. I was even excited when Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, not realizing until pundits explained otherwise that I was supposed to be aghast at its prematurity. And I wasn't a bit offended by Obama's alleged 2008 debate gaffe—a line the otherwise irreproachable Frank Rich mentioned yet again in a column as recently as September—in remarking to Hillary Clinton, "You're likable enough, Hillary." Oh, and did I mention that I actually voted for Hillary in Missouri's Democratic primary? I was one of those Democrats who thought it'd be nice to have an entrée of eight years of Hillary, with Obama as a vice-presidential side, followed by eight years of a more seasoned Obama as the main course. I was always an Obama admirer, but maybe the fact that I was initially rooting for Hillary has prevented me from feeling the disappointment in his presidency expressed by certain Obamamaniacs. So swoony and ardent was their Obama love during the campaign that it couldn't be sustained; my more measured affection, by contrast, has grown over time.
At this point, I love Obama so much that I recently thought if it were 1961, I'd probably display a bust of him in my living room. Then I realized I'm already displaying the 2010 equivalent: On my living room wall, I have a framed version of that famous November 2008 New Yorker cover of the O moon over the Lincoln Memorial. Meanwhile, on my desk, I keep a printed-out photo I first saw on the Huffington Post in May 2009, of Obama in the Oval Office, bending over so a little African-American boy could rub his head. The boy, it turns out, was the child of a White House staffer, and the reason Obama was bending was, according to the caption in the White House's Flickr account, "The youngster wanted to see if the President's haircut felt like his own."
I don't care if it's good PR—the picture still practically brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me of the sense of excitement and possibility I felt in November 2008, as if in electing Obama, we Americans were acting as our best, smartest, least racist selves, as if there really was change we could believe in. And, OK, so it's been a long two years since then, and for a lot of people it's been an undeniably hard two years. But I'm just not convinced that's Obama's fault.
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