I Miss Barack Obama
As this primary season has gone along, a strange sensation has come over me: I miss Barack Obama. Now, obviously I disagree with a lot of Obama’s policy decisions. I’ve been disappointed by aspects of his presidency.
But over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.
The first and most important of these is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude.
He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards.
Second, a sense of basic humanity. He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.
Third, a soundness in his decision-making process. Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.
Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation.
Fourth, grace under pressure. I happen to find it charming that Marco Rubio gets nervous on the big occasions — that he grabs for the bottle of water, breaks out in a sweat and went robotic in the last debate. It shows Rubio is a normal person. And I happen to think overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws. But a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis.
People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.
No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.
- Excerpted from "I Miss Barack Obama", by David Brooks, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, Feb. 9, 2016