The Essential Obama: Lesson One

Let me begin by returning to the beginning of my previous post, where I said that by August 2008 I knew only two things about Barack Obama.

He loves his daughters very much.

He intuits that like both his parents he will not make old bones.

If you accept the truth of the two things I had learned about the man after following him about for a year, then you can come to the most important question you need to ask in order to understand our current President.

But let’s examine my two insights for a minute.  Do they stand up to continued scrutiny?  First of all, surely we agree that Mr. Obama does indeed love his daughters very much. The optics now that he lives in the White House bear out this affection.  (If you are wondering why I did not include his wife, that’s because marital relationships are so much more complicated.)  Furthermore, surely we agree as well that the intensity of Obama’s paternal feelings is likely shaped in part by his father’s abandonment of him.  And, yes, in some fashion all fathers love their daughters.  All politicians love their daughters.  But Barack Obama REALLY loves his girls.

Moving on to my second insight.  An uncomfortable one, yes.  (I didn’t know a man’s eyes could widen so fast until I said this to Eric Boehlert in June 2008.)  But Mr. Obama does now (and always has, from the day he launched his bid for the presidency) hold Abraham Lincoln in the back of his mind.  He mentions Lincoln in key speeches.  He compares himself to Lincoln.  He follows in Lincoln’s footsteps, literally:  throwing his hat in the ring from the steps of the old Illinois capitol building, giving a key speech at Cooper Union in New York City, doing the presidential train tour, complete with nineteenth-century bunting.  Re-decorating the Oval Office with a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Talking, again and again, about bridging the partisan divide.

A thinking man–a thinking man who is a president (given our country’s history)–a thinking man who is a president who is also half-black (again, given our country’s history)–does not strive to be another Lincoln without considering all of the historical precedent.  Now, personally, I believe strongly that President Obama will serve two terms–indeed serve out two terms–and if he dies relatively young as his parents did his demise is more likely to be the result of smoking than anything else.  (Americans always associate smoking with lung cancer, but there are so very many other conditions smoking can cause:  bladder cancer, particularly in men; peripheral artery disease;  stroke; abdominal aneurism; normal pressure hydrocephaly–to name a few.)

Barack Obama has thought about meeting Lincoln’s fate.

So.  Why in the world would a man who loves his daughters very much–further, keenly appreciates the consequences of losing a parent–put them at risk of suffering what he did?  And more?  Because assassination would be so much more.

This is the question.

To advance a political and social agenda?


If Obama’s vision of his life’s work had been to further Democratic objectives, he would have stayed in the U.S.Senate and fed his personal power cravings at the same time by continuing to climb there.  At least until he had exhausted possibilities.

No.  Mere politics is not enough to make a man like Obama put himself and his children’s parenting at risk.  It takes a calling from outside oneself.  From destiny.  From God.  From history.  However you want to name the forces that shape this world.  A calling to some higher purpose, to ends above those of the mundane specifics of legislation.

Obama has moved like a man without much time, like a man on a mission.  He has not waited his turn, as his fellow pols used to complain.  In the future, I will be talking about the practical consequences here that from the start determined that his tenure would be very different from the “successful” presidencies of Clinton and Reagan.

Whether or not you personally accept that Obama had a calling to the presidency is irrelevant.  The point is that Obama heard that call.

Now you know why the Tea Partiers are afraid of Obama.

Mulling over what I have posited here, perhaps you are afraid now, too.

I have no idea if Obama knows–yet–why he was called to the presidency.  Guessing, I think not.  Is your level of discomfort rising?  It should be, even if, like me, you believe in a teleological universe and a beneficent Creator.

Unlike some of my fellow Christians, I am sure of very little when it comes to higher purposes.  But nothing in my reading of history and my personal experience leads me to presume that God called Barack Obama for the divine purpose of providing Americans with better health insurance, or revitalizing our middle class, or even bridging our partisan divide.

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