by John Zielinski
For a few days now I’ve been working on a piece for the Friday the 13th issue of Central Standard Time. I’ve been playing around with the idea of superstition and have invested quite a bit of time in the process. Tonight I put the laptop down for a while to watch President Obama’s farewell speech. As soon as he finished I took the piece on which I had been working and put it in mothballs. You may read it yet, but not now.
I voted in my first presidential election in 1976. I voted for the person that I believed could best do the job that needed to be done at that time. I did not vote for the person who won. I’ve voted in every presidential election since then. I always voted for the person that I believed could best do the job that needed to be done at that time. I’ve voted for winners and I’ve voted for losers. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve never believed that national success was based solely on the president. I’ve never stopped telling my Senators, my Congressional Representative or my president what I felt, what I thought or what I expected them to do. Most importantly, I’ve never given up hope no matter what I thought of the person in the White House and I’ve never given up on my personal responsibility to make a difference in this country and the world.
In 2008 Barack Obama was coming off his first term as a US Senator from the state of Illinois. Before that he had been an Illinois state Senator. I knew who he was and I knew where he stood. I sat 15 feet away from him at an event in Chicago well before he became president and wanted to walk over to tell him how happy I was with the job that he had been doing. Not wanting to intrude on him, I didn’t. Today I’m somewhat regretful that I didn’t take that opportunity. Why? Everyone needs to know that they’re appreciated for their efforts. Many people gripe about politicians, but how many people take the time to say, “Thank you”?
During the 2008 campaign my wife and I attended an Obama rally at Wicker Park in Highland, Indiana. This was the first time that I ever attended such an event. The energy in the crowd was amazing, but it was nothing compared to the energy when Mr. Obama hit the stage. I listened carefully to what he said and for the first time in my life I felt like this was a presidential candidate who really matched up with what I thought was important. He wasn’t “the lesser of two evils.” He wasn’t “good enough.” He was a candidate that I could endorse wholeheartedly. What were the odds that he could actually win, though? He was black and the US had never had a black president. He was a first term Senator and relatively unknown. He was – gasp – an academic: a Constitutional scholar. He had everything going against him and he still managed to receive more votes on Election Day than any candidate in history. In his 2012 re-election bid he received the second highest number of votes of any presidential candidate in history despite every effort by a predominantly Republican Congress to get in his way.
I was really interested to see what Mr. Obama would say tonight. Being the class act that he is, I didn’t expect any criticism of this year’s election. At the same time, I fully expected him to remind us that the fight never ends. He did not disappoint.
Tonight we were reminded of the imperative to strive together to achieve a greater good. Who among us can argue the wisdom in that? He reminded us that what makes America exceptional is not that we’ve been flawless from the start. Instead it’s that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow. We were reminded of the positive things that many or most thought unlikely and even unthinkable 8 years ago that have come to pass. Most of all, we were reminded that all of this happened because the people – the citizens – ultimately made it so.
While there are others who are saying, “Good riddance!” I’m going to miss the leadership of Barack Obama. I haven’t agreed with everything that he’s done, but I believe that everything that he’s done has been in the best interests of the people of the country not just for now, but for the future.
Very soon there will be a new guy sitting in the White House. I don’t care for him. Many people don’t care for him. More people voted for the other candidate than voted for him, yet the rules of the game say that he’s our next president. Whether he sits for 8 years or only 4 is yet to be seen. Will I feel the sadness when he delivers his farewell tweet that I felt tonight listening to Mr. Obama’s carefully crafted and well delivered address? Probably not.
When Mr. Obama finished speaking tonight I hopped onto one of the social media sites to see what my acquaintances were saying. There was one comment that, I think, sums things up well.
“After watching President Obama’s final speech tonight, I can honestly say that he makes me proud to be an American and he gives me hope that not all federal politicians are only out for themselves. As a Republican, I hope that when I listen to President Trump’s final speech in 4 years that I can say that I am not too embarrassed to be an American.” Amen.