I like and don't like President Obama. I like and don't like his presidency.
That's probably fairly evident to most of the regular readers around here. But there are also readers who fixate on the fact that I have a "The Third Term of George Bush Is Going Splendidly" tag as evidence I comprehensively hate President Obama, as well as readers who seize on my deep fondness for the Obama Family, or any positive reaction to his presidency at all, as evidence I undilutedly adore President Obama, as well as people who see both and accuse me of confounding inconsistency.
Frankly, I don't have an uncritical view of the President in either direction. I like a lot about him. I don't like a lot about him. I am willing and eager to write about both positions. That's not inconsistency; that's an acknowledgment of his complex humanity.
It's also an acknowledgement of my own.
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Right before the last presidential election, I wrote that then-candidate Obama, and my constantly mixed feelings about his candidacy and policies, had taught me something important about how I view candidates:
[Obama's candidacy] has been, for me, a continuing lesson on what are and what are not mutually exclusive concepts. Being unthrilled about certain policy positions and tactics, sometimes unthrilled even to the point of feeling like we're taking a step backwards, and regarding his candidacy as yet a step forward in other ways, aren't mutually exclusive.Emphasis original. Forward. Heh.
Reconciling that with my tendency to view candidates as either singularly Progressive or Not Progressive has been an important learning experience for me.
That's not a "lesser of two evils" argument; it's not a comment about compromise, or balance, or taking what we can get, either. It's about coexistence and complexity, and opening myself up to both in a way I haven't before—in no small part because I've never had the need nor the chance, offered as I've been prior to this election only straight, white, wealthy men who were symbols of nothing but social stagnation at the upper levels of our government.
For a long time, I wasn't quite sure how to work out what to make of this opportunity given to me, to see forward and backward and running in place so vividly all in the same candidate. (I certainly would have had the same problem if Clinton had ended up our nominee.) But moving into a space where I can simultaneously feel desperately excited about the forward, while feeling the usual disappointment and occasional fury about the same old and back, has been good. And liberating.
It feels like the first time you really understand how to keep loving someone even after you've seen their flaws.
It's almost like I'm a real grown-up or something.
All of those expressed sentiments are truer and more active parts of my thought now, four years later.
I hold in my head at the same time that President Obama supports policies that are detestable to me, especially with regard to foreign policy, and supports policies that are precious to me, especially with regard to domestic social justice. I hold in my head at the same time the thought that President Obama will sign off on drone strikes that kill children, and the thought expressed so beautifully last night by
Children are coming of age knowing nothing else than a black First Family. My God.— Valérie (@Valerie_JeanC) September 7, 2012
And that says something about Barack Obama, the man and the president who has weathered incomprehensible levels of racist shit to be first.
Which of those am I supposed to disregard in order to wholly love or wholly hate President Barack Obama?
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Those simultaneous thoughts say something about the Office of the President, too, which is suffused with American Exceptionalism no matter which party fills it. The flavors are slightly different, but they both leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
We drone children in other countries and talk incessantly of protecting children in this country (to justify all manner of policy, only some of which is actually good for children) because we are an empire with all the self-centered, self-indulgent fantasies of specialness—and its dark shadow of dangerous paranoia of threats to privilege—inherent to empire.
Barack Obama is not just a president; he is not even merely the President of the United States. He is The American President, the head of government and the head of state of a global empire that arrives on distant shores accompanied by the chant of "USA! USA!" whether its warriors are in battle gear or three-piece suits or red aprons.
He is also The American President, the figurehead of a diverse democratic nation, a melting pot, an experiment in pluralism that sometimes has gone amazingly right.
I recognize that many of the things that I like and don't like about President Obama and his presidency are really symbolic of things that I like and don't like about my country.
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President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, as he departs for Washington, D.C., May 1, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)I recently said in comments: "Never in my life has a politician had the capacity to infuriate and delight me to extremes the way President Barack Obama has."
I stand by that. He makes me angry and he disappoints me. He inspires me and surprises me. He challenges me, he forces me to examine my beliefs, and he tests my principles.
I like him and I don't like him. I think he'd be good with that. I think he'd like and not like me, too.