American Presidents often disappoint whilst in office. George Washington is an obvious exception, but then he had the dual advantages of being first and kicking the Brits out. Lincoln pulled the country back together, was a gifted and talented wordsmith and embodied the notion of ‘keep your enemies close’ with his rivals for the nomination holding high office in his administration. However he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet before he could complete his vision as was John F. Kennedy, whose reputation has been somewhat glossed over. Kennedy did after all authorised a disastrous invasion of Cuba, sent the first military advisors to Vietnam and was a serial womaniser. He was the first president to embrace the power of the visual image and of the soundbite, though ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ still amuses those in the German capital as they tuck into a jam filled doughnut.
The real impact of past presidents comes in their legacy and their post-presidential life. For every Harding and Coolidge, there is a Hoover and Truman, two men who brought their talents to bear in other fields in their time out of office. The Iran Hostage Crisis haunted the last 444 days of Jimmy Carter’s administration, but he has rebuilt his reputation as a great humanitarian in his later years.
So what then of the now departed Barack Obama?
In his final days he was reflective about his eight years. He recognised his achievements alongside his failures. He was a President who did focus primarily upon domestic affairs having been left a huge financial mess by the Bush administration.
If we look not at Obama the politician, but at Obama the person, we see a man with values and integrity. He is a genuinely loving father and husband. In paying tribute to Michelle in his final speech in Chicago the tear in his eye was a true indication of the feelings for his wife. He is a man of humility, integrity and respect. Obama was very much a team player. He moved his Vice-President to tears with his words in presenting Joe Biden with the Medal of Freedom, honouring a man who brought life to a role which to those of us in the UK often seems anonymous and empty. Biden’s letter to his staff, though two years out of date, indicates the values of leadership and decency were shared.
A President bursting into song may appear cheesy or contrived, but look again at his performance of ‘Amazing Grace’ at the funeral for the victims of the Charleston shooting.
He composes himself. This is genuine and heartfelt. Obama will be remembered as a man able to express his emotions. Real men do indeed cry.
He could play the soundbites, he could provide the inspirational quotes, he could use social media to his advantage and he knew the power of image. He used each though in a positive manner.
Barack Obama is still a young man at 55. He will build on his legacy in the coming years and we will see plenty of him in other roles.
His legacy as it stands now is one we in education can draw much from. His values are integral to his every action. His honour, fidelity, sense of humour and honesty are what we would like to see in anyone we encounter, child or adult. His words will inspire many a PSHE lesson and assembly. The Obama team spirit embodies what leadership really needs to look like. The transition period was not a ‘lame duck’ ten weeks, but a time to demonstrate and share why he was in the trusted position he held. One of his last actions as President, as he escorted his successor, was to take Michelle’s hand and kiss it . This wasn’t for the cameras; it genuinely reflects the qualities of Barack Obama the man.
Contrast the above though with his successor. A man unafraid to express opinion that many consider offensive and discriminatory. His misogynistic attitude to women in general shown through the comments made about his opponent in the election and towards female journalists, are disturbing in the least. The allegations made against him of groping are appalling, but what is worse is the casual dismissal of these. During the election campaign this man offended the families of fallen American soldiers. He was also dismissive of PSTD sufferers in the military accusing them of not being ‘strong‘ and that they ‘can’t handle it‘.
This is a man who has the smug arrogance to take to Twitter to aggressively support and defend his actions, adding a ‘shouty’ tone in this communication to his words behind a microphone. He will hold a grudge and keep on for days and not see his errors. We are possibly going to see the grudge against journalists and intelligence services rear their head at the slightest opportunity as a diversionary tactic to the real truth.
Shouting down with ‘You’re Fake News!’ may become a regular call out in the next term. Many cannot abide him as the protests show, but we have seen no acknowledgement that he recognises this. As his press secretary accused the television networks and journalists of dishonestly reporting the numbers present at the inauguration. Anyone who makes such controversial comments is going to have a few cheerleaders defending him, seemingly blinded to the opinions and feelings of others.
‘History will absolve me’ said Fidel Castro years before he came to power. Although he claims to speak for the people, history may judge the new American president as only thinking of himself.
Good sound moral values are at the core of good schools. Barack Obama has provided values that we can draw upon for many years to come, regardless of how successful history regards his presidency. His successor may provide less useful sources of inspiration.