It was just Dad and me that night and we watched his speech from the VIP observation deck in what was then the Fleet Center. Earlier in the evening, I smiled dopily at Al Franken and squeezed passed Michael Moore and wondered how I, a spoiled 19-year-old of middling intellect, had gotten here.
When Barack Obama spoke, the arena air crackled. He talked about the twin myths of red America and blue America. He quoted Jefferson and pointed to the dogma of Declaration, that we are all bound together by the self-evident truths that we are all equal and imbued with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thousands of people leaped to their feet in thunderous applause and you knew this guy was Going Places. I looked up the text of his speech and dropped it into an AIM away message when we got back to the hotel.
As we all know, Kerry lost that November. I cried and wrote some whiny away messages, but life went on. That speech burrowed itself into the depths of my brain. Obama won his senate race. I largely forgot about my foray into summer political internships and busied myself with school and sorority. As my magazine editing class wound down in December 2006, our final project was to lay out a spread and design a cover for Esquire. I plopped a pixelated photo of Senator Obama in front of the Capitol on my cover and presented it to my befuddled classmates with an enthusiastic “I swear he’s going to be a big deal one day.”
Then, as my dear roomie and I were getting pre-recruitment manicures at Unicorn Nails one afternoon in February 2007, CNN confirmed my proclamation. He announced he was running for president and the nation collectively scoffed.
Dad and I voted together on primary day and on Election Day in 2008 and I pulled the lever for him both times. It was the first time I remember feeling hopeful; I became an adult amid rising terrorism, escalating wars and evaporating jobs with a president who couldn’t pronounce “nuclear” or remember folksy phrases about being fooled twice. While Obama felt like a fresh south wind on a 95-degree beach day compared to Bush, right now I think I’d give my right arm to have W. back instead of what’s coming.
Obama’s first inaugural address laid out the wireframe of a jam-packed to-do list that acknowledged the purpose of government is to lift up its people, not shrink small enough to be brushed out of the way so that only the wealthy can achieve their goals here. We watched it on the tiny TV in the newsroom at my first job out of college and I’m pretty sure everyone got a little teary. The world felt new.
There’s not much that I can say about Obama’s warmth and intelligence that hasn’t been said. I’ll miss his wit and charm and his family. Republicans swear up and down that they are the standard bearers of “family values” and yet they’ve sneered at our beautiful, wholesome First Family every chance they got. Now, they’ve stuck us with an overgrown toddler who can’t resist a Twitter fight, who has turned in two wives for a younger model and has proudly bragged of sexual assault and never once denied it.
But enough about him… In a few hours, he’ll put his hand on the Lincoln bible and usher in a new era of “telling it like it is” and that will be that. In my estimation, he’ll be lucky to make it six months without threat of impeachment.
For eight years, we had someone who could comfort the nation at times of tragedy, who assembled a Supreme Court that could enact sweeping changes that improved life for Americans who had been previously been denied one of the largest and most joyous life events thanks to bigotry, someone who championed girls and women because he genuinely believed we’re more than something pretty to grab. The differences are stark and the future feels bleak. The hope Obama awakened in millions of young people is still alive but flickering. If we’re lucky, it’ll manifest itself into real, meaningful action over the next two years – not tweets and half-hearted Change.org petitions.
Back to Obama’s first inaugural address, he delivered some beautifully crafted sentences that I think sum up the American experience in such a way that no one can hear or read them and not feel a stirring in their soul. I’m copying and pasting because they’re housed at WhiteHouse.gov and who the hell knows what that URL will hold after noon today: