On Obama, from this corner of Asia

I followed President Obama’s campaign in 2008, the ones that were broadcasted on cable. I was on field work in a remote area when the awaited news came through. Barack Obama won. The inn where I was billeted has cable TV thanks to the field office. That evening I ordered room service and holed up in my room for the broadcast.

The wonderment and celebration across the States resonated with me. First because I’m a sucker for history. My fantasy is to time travel like Alice (in Wonderland) through the different ages; to experience the events that shaped the world and understand the possibility of an alternative history; to witness history’s firsts. Obama is the first black US President and Americans had found in themselves the courage to make an unprecedented leap of faith. I was tremendously touched by that. Also,

that a law professor could walk in on an unprecedented economic collapse, a global crisis, and right things well enough that his critics can forget what an abyss had yawned, is proof of extraordinary brilliance and composure.

– Marilynne Robinson, Obama’s legacy: Lorrie Moore, Richard Ford, Marilynne Robinson and others look back, The Guardian

Of Obama’s visit to Greece recently, it was like he specially went on pilgrimage there and took the global public along with him to where democracy first happened. In his speech, one of his more eloquent ones, he seemed to speak for all our dreams and effort toward a united and democratic world in which the most important is the citizen, the people (demos), but also the reality that people clash over the means to achieve the common vision, and had gotten stuck there. What to do? That’s the point I guess of his visit to Athens- we all need to remember why we started.

But what will linger with me most powerfully about Obama’s presidency, is the dignity and style with which he, along with Michelle Obama and their daughters, inhabited the White House. They are grownups in an infantilised, and infantilising, world. They are disciplined, distinguished, serious, proud. They are intelligent, humorous, compassionate. There was not a whiff of scandal; their standards are exceptionally high, and they expected the rest of us to measure up.

The Obamas changed the rules for what it means to inhabit the White House, and not only because they were the first black family to do so. They were also the first modern family to do so, to be informal yet classy, upright yet kind, and, most important, themselves. These are real people, and they are formidable people. Obama didn’t get everything right, but clearly we shall not see his like again in the White House.

– Sarah Churchwell, Obama’s legacy: Lorrie Moore, Richard Ford, Marilynne Robinson and others look back, The Guardian


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