Last night Barack Obama met with over a hundred family members of the victims of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino. Before they started their traditional Christmas vacation in Hawaii he and his wife Michelle stopped by the Indian Springs High School, where fourteen tables had been set up in the library, one for the relatives of each victim. The first couple stayed for hours and Obama spoke with everybody in attendance, listened to their memories of their loved ones, hugged them when they cried, never rushing to the next person or the next table. Obviously the press was not allowed in the building, and the Obamas didn’t speak with reporters afterwards, so we can only imagine the toll their self-imposed, sacred duty as comforters in chief takes on them, and the heavy hearts with which they travelled to their final destination. Events like that, just like the speech he gave during the funeral service for one of the victims of the racist massacre in a church in Charleston, provide a good contrast to the image of ‘cool Obama,’ the president who is aloof and detached from what goes on among the US population, that the press so often promotes.
Bill Clinton could easily convince people that he felt their pain and put his arms around them or give them a warm handshake, but Obama unfortunately has had much more practice than any of his recent predecessors with these kinds of events, and from the beginning he has been a natural, not only sharing the grief of the victims and their kin but also sharing his own anger about the various causes of the violence with the nation. Remembering George W. Bush’s insensitive fly-over of New Orleans after Katrina and his subsequent declaration that ‘Brownie’ was doing a heck of a job as the head of FEMA, one can only imagine how poorly a racist bully like Donald Trump or a rattlesnake like Ted Cruz would perform in similar circumstances. But the Obamas’ visit to San Bernardino has also brought some attention to a larger issue, namely how much good they still can and will do after Barack’s presidency is over. Imagine them being totally free from White House protocol and Washington decorum and able to speak their mind about what ails the country, based on what they have experienced during his eight years in office.
It stands to reason that Michelle will continue her efforts on behalf of veterans’ families and children’s health, but for her husband there is almost no issue he cannot tackle more effectively outside of the DC gridlock than in the Oval Office, from gun violence and police brutality to social inequality and Wall Street greed. On an international scale the fights against jihadism and global warming seem to be obvious areas in which he can continue his presidential quests.
Although Obama always has avoided to conspicuously act like the first black president and graciously left the honor to Clinton, he will have to follow the instincts that led to the White House ‘beer summit’ and his observation that if he had a son, his child would look like Trayvon Martin. He owes that not only to black America, but also to himself and his wife and daughters.
Tonight is the next debate between the Democratic candidates, one of which will hopefully be the next US President. She or he would be wise to stay closely aligned with Obama’s agenda, now and in the future, because it will make the next presidency considerably stronger.