Barack Obama is a citizen born and raised in the United States of America.
It says so much about our nation, good and bad, that he now enters the last year of his presidency, yet 1 in 5 of his fellow Americans don’t believe the preceding sentence.
At noon, on Jan. 20, 2017, a hand will be placed on a treasured Bible of personal or historic significance and the 45th president of the United States will be sworn in. He or she will assume our nation’s highest elected berth without any suspicions as to place of birth.
What has always been an uncontested fact of a president’s beginning will return to just that with no sitting president feeling compelled, as President Obama was in 2011, to show his papers, i.e., his birth certificate.
I believe that most criticism and opposition to President Obama is rooted in genuine policy and ideological disagreements about the role of government. The quality of their arguments and the veracity of their facts may vary, but they spring from waters of honorable dissent, and not dark and toxic racial undercurrents like birtherism.
But anyone who thought that Obama’s ascension to the White House meant we were entering — God, I hate this phrase — a “post-racial era” was naïve.
In mid-January, Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said of Obama, “There probably has not been a more racially divisive, economic-divisive president in the White House since we had presidents who supported slavery.”
First, from Andrew Johnson on, that is a long list of presidents who governed a nation that was brutally racially divided in laws dictating every stage of a person’s life, from what hospital they could be born in, to what schools they could attend, who they could marry, what jobs they could hold and in what cemetery they could be buried. Most of those presidents did little to change that.
Second, this is like blaming nonviolent civil rights marchers in Birmingham for the police hoses and dogs unleashed on them, or blaming Freedom Riders for being beaten by mobs in bus terminals.
Whoever was going to be our first black president, be it Colin Powell or J.C. Watts, would have been seen by someone like Brooks as racially divisive because of ugly prejudices he would have stirred and brought out.
Without intent, whoever would be our first black president would roil racial waters, especially someone named Barack Hussein Obama, born in Hawaii of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, and who, as a child, lived for three years in Indonesia. No one has traveled farther from our geographic and imaginative periphery to occupy the Oval Office.
The first line of President Obama’s (a long way from being written) obituary and every encyclopedia entry will mention him as the first African-American president of the United States, but he is one of our most consequential presidents, whatever you think about the consequences.
In a recent issue of Politico, Michael Grunwald wrote:
“What he’s done is changing the way we produce and consume energy, the way doctors and hospitals treat us, the academic standards in our schools and the long-term fiscal trajectory of the nation. Gays can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, credit card companies can no longer impose hidden fees and markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail. Solar energy installations are up nearly 2,000 percent, and carbon emissions have dropped even though the economy is growing. Even Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who hope to succeed Obama and undo his achievements, have been complaining on the campaign trail that he’s accomplished most of his agenda.”
There’s so much more. The point is that as time goes by, as with all presidents, we’ll debate what Obama did or didn’t do in office. Nothing else.
That’s all that matters.