Whatever one’s politics, it’s safe to say that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have been great role models for the last seven-and-a-half years. Only the racist or the hyperpartisan would probably say otherwise.
They have conducted themselves — as spouses, parents and public servants — in a way that has been a credit to their country, their race and their upbringing.
There has been no drama, no personal scandal, no public bad behavior from their teenage daughters, no nothing.
What makes their White House years remarkable is that they did so in the face of often ugly racial taunts and disrespect from not just some ordinary Americans, but often some elected leaders and officials.
We’re not talking here about legitimate policy-based differences with the president, which is fine, but racially tinged disrespect.
In particular, President Obama’s demeanor has been especially admirable. I always thought he was the Jackie Robinson of American politics — as the first African-American president of the country, he knew he’d face disrespect, but he also knew that, like Robinson, he’d not be able to have the luxury of showing anger or getting affected by it.
Michelle Obama put it poignantly in her convention speech about the race-based attacks: “When they go low, we go high.”
The list of race-based taunts and disrespect were many — from prominent people questioning his birthplace and his faith, from elected leaders like Gov. Jan Brewer to Rep. Joe Wilson to many others showing open disrespect, to the many racist political cartoons depicting the first family.
It’s true that past presidents like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush faced their own share of “derangement syndromes” from their detractors. But in Obama’s case, there was an added layer of ugliness and darkness to the verbal attacks.
From Newt Gingrich calling him a “food stamp president,” to Sen. Marco Rubio repeatedly saying “Obama knows exactly what he’s doing,” to Donald Trump questioning his body language, and many others, the attacks on him were designed to sow ill will in Americans’ minds about Obama’s race, his legitimacy as president, and indeed even his allegiance to this country.
But you know what? The attacks haven’t really stuck. It is a credit to most American voters’ fair-mindedness that despite the relentless right-wing attacks on him, they re-elected Obama and have given him his highest approval ratings — 54 percent — in his last year in office.
I think the reason for that is the attacks on him clearly don’t mesh with the president they see on TV — someone who they can see is a good human being and who carries himself with uncommon dignity, elegance and decency.
And in turn, Obama has been fair-minded too, sometimes exceedingly so. He acknowledged that some people “really dislike” him because they don’t like the idea of a black man in the White House.
“Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black president,” he told The New Yorker.
I don’t get the above “reverse racism” bit, actually, and here’s why. If you are an African-American and have gone more than 200 years without a black president, wouldn’t you unequivocally support the first well-spoken and qualified black presidential candidate?
A little empathy would be nice from those who say that black Americans blindly support Obama.
Obama especially stands in contrast to the two nominees we now have for president. Trump has been criticized for his unruly temperament and Hillary Clinton for her personal ethics. On both temperament and personal probity, our current president scores high.
Funnily enough, even Trump recognizes the president’s likability factor. “In many ways, I like Obama. It’s hard to define. There’s something about him I do like. I’m embarrassed to admit it. … He’s got some quality going,” he recently told The New York Times.