I watched Obama’s memorial speech two nights ago at a college bar in Tucson called the Hut, a three minute drive from the University of Arizona basketball arena where the service was held. The bar projected the speech on a big screen behind a little stage. The Arizona League of Conservation Voters bought a bunch of pizza for the assembled crew; microbrews were just $3 each (why, again, do I live in New York?).
If you’re into things like memorial speeches or presidents, then you’ve probably already seen the speech. So you already know it was a rather phenomenal moment. He worked like Barbara Walters in that bar: everyone got teary, and they weren’t even that drunk.
I just want to point to one section of his speech, where he really got that hope-y, change-y thing to work for him:
I believe we can be better… in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
I’m not one for breeder-superiority. I think it’s a fantastic decision not to have kids, and I don’t think becoming a parent makes you smarter, more compassionate, more enlightened or anything except a hell of lot more tired.
But I will say this: I am glad our president is a father to young children. The thing that he really gets is that idea of expectation: that your child can change you even when they’re an infant, because suddenly you have to live up to all their innocence and adoration. Most of us fail. We all fail. Of course. But there are moments when we might just make a decision that is actually smart or brave or selfless because of the knowledge that someone out there wants you to be a better man.
That someone who believes in you is not, by the way, your wife, who’s way too smart to think you can actually change. That someone is your child, who will believe in you all the way up until that night in December 2019 when you do that thing with that thing, and then there’s antifreeze involved. Then she will realize what a putz you are. Until that happens, though, there’s going to be adoration and expectation.
That filial expectation is why, now that Obama is done making his lyrical address about reconciliation, he should go back to Washington and kick a tremendous amount of Republican ass. I wouldn’t advocate that, perhaps, in other times. But this upcoming week, Republicans will try to kick millions of children off of health insurance. They will try to drag the country back to the days when you could tell the rich people because they were the ones with teeth. Obama, as father and as president, had better get ready to fight, and if he has to, fight dirty. For the sake of his children. And mine.