Eight years is a long time to keep your cool. It’s a long time to hear a unifying message above the endless clamor of opposing views. It’s a long time to remain the faithful steward of a distant vision. It’s a long time to lead a conflicted nation with calmness and consistency.
Politics aside, I think many of us can agree that President Obama’s leadership style has been remarkable.
For those who have never embraced his agenda, for those who have always supported him, for those whose expectations he didn’t quite meet, and for those so young that his presidency alone has exemplified the office, he has been an impressive role model.
His temperament and positive message – a message of hope, empowerment, and inclusion – have remained constant in the face of both victories and national crises, many of which no doubt stirred conflicts at his own core.
He has treated his detractors with respect while weathering resistance, and has greeted his triumphs with humility and grace.
His optimism, kindness, and belief in the American people were as evident in his final remarks in office as they were when he, as a candidate for US Senate from Illinois, took to the Democratic National Convention stage in 2004.
In that memorable speech, which he delivered to a divided and torn America, a much younger President Obama urged his fellow citizens to come together.
Pointing out situations in which we might be called upon to stand up for one another, he expressed faith in our commitment to defend the civil liberties of all Americans. This sense of duty, he described as a “fundamental belief.”
It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one. Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.
Fittingly, President Obama echoed this sentiment with even more passion when he gave his farewell address on January 10:
Understand democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.
Steadfast in his pursuit of unity, he still urges us to reach across boundaries to achieve shared goals. Counseling empathy and mutual understanding, he continues to appeal to the thread of common purpose that connects us beneath our externally diverse layers.
For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.
Thank you, President Obama, for inspiring us with your example of steadiness and grace in power over eight years, and for reminding us every step of the way to look out for one another.