Barack Obama has always acted suspicious of his own popularity, as though he suspects that the ability to inspire adolescent worship is not, shall we say, presidential. He has a special word for the way he feels about himself when he sees thousands of otherwise dignified adults melting in real time: imperfect .
"Ultimately I am an imperfect vessel for your hopes and dreams," Obama
told a crowd in Ames, Iowa
, exactly one day after announcing his candidacy. And again, in a
Father’s Day speech
yesterday at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago: "I say this knowing that I have been an imperfect father—knowing that I have made mistakes and will continue to make more."
To be clear, Obama does not think he’s Mr. Perfect.
Of all the adjectives Obama could have tapped to summarizing his humility, imperfect falls on the flattering end. It’s much more "I am human" or "I am mortal" than "I make a lot of errors" or "I have flaws." And it has strong constitutional credentials; the phrase "a more perfect Union" falls 12 words into the Preamble and shows up in the Federalist Papers . If you don’t buy this allusion, please refer yourself to Obama’s highly regarded speech on race relations , titled "A More Perfect Union."
In that speech, Obama bestowed the highest possible praise on his former pastor Jeremiah Wright: "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me." A few minutes later, he turns the word back on himself: "I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own."
Again, at a " Compassion Forum " on April 13: "And, you know, pastors are imperfect. Certainly, the membership is imperfect. I, as somebody who is sitting in the pews as a sinner, is imperfect." The Obama is not without original sin.
Michelle Obama picked up the baton a few days later at a
Women for Obama event
: "Barack, as I tease, he’s a wonderful man, he’s a gifted man, but in the end, he is just a man. He is an imperfect vessel and I love him dearly."
In one word, the wordsmith in chief has neatly compressed the combined brand of his candidacy: He is extraordinary but humble, messianic but human, imperfect but constitutional.
I, for one, would like to see Obama supporters embrace this emblem. Rather than pollute flat surfaces with "Hope" and "Change," let’s see them fill a room with signs that all read "Imperfect." The rest of us should forgive Obama all his shortcomings. No one’s perfect.