The more I look at the two candidates for president of the U.S., the more I start missing Barack Obama. He has some months left in office, but his steady, calm style, more than his policies, remains remarkable in these violent times.
As Timothy Egan wrote recently in the NYTimes (7-15), Obama has been a classy model of dignity whose personal behavior--no scandals--"has set a standard few presidents have ever reached."
As consoler-in-chief, this masterful speaker has been widely praised for providing unity in a time of chaos. This cool, unflappable, patient guy is the same man attacked viciously by the right wing for the past seven years, having his Americanism challenged as well as his religion; yet he has responded with predictable eloquence, not anger.
A careful thinker and writer who spends hours alone reading in his private study after he has said goodnight to his family, Obama is the kind of thoughtful leader we need, the kind who rarely misspeaks or makes embarrassing errors. He remains who he was in 2008: a family man who reads widely, thinks carefully, and knows who he is.
Obama the man will be missed, even if Obama the president has made decisions that are questionable. His cautious foreign policy has been far from perfect in dealing with ISIS, yet he has moved away from the ideology of his predecessor to pursue new areas of engagement (with Iran and Cuba and Asia).
As Fareed Zakaria wrote some months ago, Obama has not been given credit for many significant achievements: his forceful response to the financial crisis of 2008, bringing the U.S. out of the Great Recession in better shape than any other major country. And he provided a health care program that covers 20 million more people, even recently taking the time to write, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a critique of Obamacare, offering suggestions as to how it can be improved. What other president would do this?
He has, says Zakaria, transformed energy policy (solar costs have plunged seventy percent). People will argue about these and other policies, but few can (honestly) say that Obama has acted dishonestly, embarrassing our country in the eyes of the world.
When I look at Donald Trump, I see the antithesis of Obama: I see chaos in the recent convention and campaign, not order; irrationality and anger, not patience or clarity in the face of complexity; carelessness and lies, not a clear policy; and a bleak view of a new dark age that has supposedly fallen on America and the world that only Donald can, single-handedly, fix. Trump is a ludicrous figure who makes Obama's scandal-free White House and his calm, reassuring message of hope and clarity all the more remarkable.
I predict a valuable post-presidency for Barack Obama. He will continue to do important work in the world.