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JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON:
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton
Fate has a way of forcing razor-sharp turns in our lives, and Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, parents of slain teen Trayvon Martin, are dealing with the ultimate challenge. Within a week of the acquittal of the man who pulled the trigger on that rainy Florida evening, and though many would crumble under the weight of despair, they continued to turn their pain into a pointed argument for justice. Vaulted into a national debate over the issues of racial profiling, gun violence and “Stand Your Ground” laws, Martin and Fulton are buoyed by the wave of public empathy and rallies taking place around the country; they gain strength and conviction with each heavy step they take.
The pair agreed to meet with EBONY, along with their attorney and advocate Benjamin L. Crump, on a sweltering morning in New York City, just days after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Ironically, our interview and cover shoot took place in the same hotel suite where a newly elected president Barack Obama stayed at the dawn of his first term in office, and on the same day of his very personal address on race in America. In those remarks, the president poignantly identified with the plight of young African-American men when he stated, “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago. There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”
But on this day, the room held a different energy. Obama’s post-electoral elation yielded to a family’s desires to make sense of a senseless tragedy. Holding firm to their convictions, they still seek to properly honor the memory of their son and to ensure the survival of all our children.
Read more in the September issue of EBONY
© 2013 EB
OBAMA! -VOGUE MAGAZINE 2012 INTERVIEW WITH BOTH OUR BLACK PRESIDENT ATI OUR BLACK SKINNED BEAUTY FIRST LADY IN THE BLACK HOUSE!March 17, 2013
Leading by Example: First Lady Michelle Obama
photographed by Annie Leibovitz
At the start of a second term, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama talk to Jonathan Van Meter about their life as parents, their marriage, and their vision for America’s families.
One morning in late January, I am standing at one end of the grand red-carpeted corridor that runs through the center of the White House, when suddenly the First Lady appears at the other. “Heeeee’s comin’,” she says of her husband’s imminent arrival. “He’s coming down the stairs now.” The president is on his way from the residence above, and just a split second before he appears, the First Lady, in a midnight-blue Reed Krakoff sleeveless dress and a black kitten heel, slips into the tiniest bit of a surprisingly good soft-shoe, and then the two of them walk arm in arm into the Red Room to sit for a portrait by Annie Leibovitz. The photographer has her iPod playing the Black Eyed Peas song “Where Is the Love?” It is a mid-tempo hip-hop lament about the problematic state of the world. As the First Lady and an aide laugh together over some inside joke, the president starts nodding his head to the beat: “Who picked the music? I love this song.”
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I’m gettin’ older, y’all, people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ the wrong direction
A few minutes later, Leibovitz has the president sit in a comfortable chair and then directs the First Lady to perch on the arm. At one point, the First Lady puts her hand on top of his and, instinctively, he wraps his fingers around her thumb. “There’s a lot of huggin’ going on,” says Leibovitz, and everyone laughs. “You’re a very different kind of president and First Lady.”
See our animated video of Michelle Obama’s best looks.
That they are. Put aside for a moment that they are the first African-Americans to preside in the White House, or that it feels perfectly normal to see the president enjoying a hip-hop song in the Red Room before lunch, or that the First Lady has bucked convention by routinely mixing Thom Browne and Alexander McQueen with J.Crew and Target, or that Malia and Sasha’s grandma lives with them upstairs, or that the whole family texts and takes pictures of one another with their smart phones. What is truly unusual about the Obamas is that, in their own quietly determined way, they have insisted on living their lives on their terms: not as the First Family but as a family, first.
First Lady of Fashion: See Michelle Obama’s Best Dressed Moments
“He is a dad,” says the president’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, “and a husband, and he enjoys being with his children and his wife. He doesn’t have a father. He’s trying really hard to be a good dad.” Says former senior adviser David Axelrod, “This is conjecture on my part, but I have to believe that because of the rather tumultuous childhood that he had, family is even more important to him. It’s central to who he is. That’s why he’s home every night at 6:30 for dinner.”
Click through our archival slideshow First Ladies in Vogue.
The president and First Lady both seem to be in ebullient moods, and deservedly so. His surprisingly decisive reelection is now history; the tonally precise inauguration is ten days behind them. The First Lady, it must be said, is funny, and it soon becomes clear that she can’t resist an opportunity to tease her husband. The first real question I ask them is about the persistent notion among the Washington press corps that they—unlike, say, the Reagans or the Clintons—are somehow antisocial, that they don’t privately entertain enough at the White House, that they don’t break bread and smoke cigars and play poker with their enemies. When I joke that they might want to “put that idea to rest” once and for all, the president starts to answer, but his wife, whose back has gone up ever so slightly, cuts him off. “I don’t think it’s our job to put an idea to rest. Our job is, first and foremost, to make sure our family is whole. You know, we have small kids; they’re growing every day. But I think we were both pretty straightforward when we said, ‘Our number-one priority is making sure that our family is whole.’ ”
They are quick to point out that most of their friends have kids themselves, and that when they go on vacation, usually with longtime family friends and relatives, they end up with a houseful of children. “The stresses and the pressures of this job are so real that when you get a minute,” the First Lady says, “you want to give that extra energy to your fourteen- and eleven-year-old. . . .” “Although,” her husband says, a big grin spreading across his face, “as I joked at a press conference, now that they want less time with us, who knows? Maybe you’ll see us out in the clubs.”
“Saturday night!” says the First Lady. “The kids are out with their friends. Let’s go party!”
“ ‘The Obamas are out in the club again?’ ” says the president, laughing. “What is true,” he says, more seriously, “is that we probably—even before we came to Washington—had already settled in a little bit to parenthood. And. . . .” Here he pauses in the way that only President Obama can. “Let’s put it this way: I did an awful lot of socializing in my teens and 20s.
Read André Leon Talley’s story on Michelle Obama as she settled into the White House in 2009.
“But what is also true,” he says, “is that the culture in Washington has changed in ways that probably haven’t been great for the way this place runs. . . . When you talk to the folks who were in the Senate or the House back in the sixties, seventies, eighties, there was much less pressure to go back and forth to your home state. . . . Campaigns weren’t as expensive. So a lot of members of Congress bought homes here in the area; their kids went to school here; they ended up socializing in part because their families were here. By the time I got to the Senate, that had changed. Michelle and the girls, for example, stayed in Chicago, and I had this little bachelor apartment that Michelle refused to stay in because she thought it was a little, uh. . . .”
“Yikes,” she says.
“You know, pizza boxes everywhere,” he says. “When she came, I had to get a hotel room.” The First Lady leans in toward me. “That place caught on fire.”
“It did end up catching on fire,” says the president sheepishly.
“And I was like, I told you it was a dump,” she says. Her husband continues, “As a consequence, I think, when the Washington press writes about this, part of what they’re longing for has less to do with us; it has to do with an atmosphere here where there was more of a community in Washington, which did result, I think, in less polarization. Because if your kids went to school together and you’re seeing each other at ball games and church, then Democrats and Republicans had a sense that this is not just perpetual campaigning and political warfare.”
Special Edition Best Dressed: Michelle Obama’s Polished Podium Looks
While the First Lady may not be a Tiger Mom, and the Obamas may not be helicopter parents (despite their access to Marine One), they are, in fact, exemplars of a new paradigm—the super-involved parenting team for whom being equally engaged in the minutiae of their children’s lives is paramount. Perhaps this is what has been misconstrued by old-school Washington. After all, it is so unlike the way that the White House has traditionally functioned, as a paragon of American family life, complete with a staff that all but invented the idea of standing on ceremony.
Later I bring this up to Anita Dunn, former White House communications director and a consultant on the reelection campaign who has a teenager of her own. “You know,” she says, “they are of a different generation. Most of [the Obamas’] friends have both parents in the workforce, and there is a degree of involvement from both parents in raising the children that simply wasn’t the case earlier. But they also both know what it’s like to be raising kids in this very challenging time—whether it’s video games or Facebook or smart phones. That they are experiencing these things along with so many other American parents gives them a unique perspective on the challenges families face.”
I mention the wintry tableau on Inauguration Day, all four Obamas texting and taking pictures of one another. “Sasha plays basketball with her little team at a community center in my neighborhood,” says Dunn. “My son played there and, you know, there are no bleachers or anything—parents are just standing on the sidelines. And that’s an experience that the president has, just like all those other parents. If I was in a school play, my father would show up. But, you know, he wasn’t at the rehearsals. It is a different model. But I think it has been a valuable thing, to help them break out of the bubble.”
From our 2012 Special Edition Best Dressed Issue: Michelle Obama: A Woman of Substance
A friend of mine with two kids who are just heading off to college pointed out to me recently that Malia and Sasha are on the cusp of that stage in life when parenting requires, as she put it, “elasticity”—and life in the White House seems anything but elastic. “Well, the environment becomes more elastic,” the First Lady says. “The Secret Service has to change the way they do things; they have to become more flexible. And they do. Because they want to make sure that these girls are happy and that they have a normal life. . . . There’s a lot of energy that goes into working with staff, working with agents, working with friends’ parents to figure out how do we, you know, let these kids go to the party and have a sleepover and walk through the city on their own, go to the game. Any parent knows that these are the times when you’re just a scheduler and chauffeur for your kids. And that doesn’t change for us. Ninety percent of our conversation is about these girls: What are they doing? And who’s got what practice? And what birthday party is coming up? And did we get a gift for this person? You know, I mean, it is endless and it gets to be pretty exhausting, and if you take your eye off the ball, that’s when their lives become inelastic,” she says emphatically. “So it requires us to be there and be present so that we can respond and have the system respond to their needs. . . . And he’s doing it while still dealing with Syria and health care. He’s as up on every friend, every party, every relationship. . . . And if you’re out at dinner every night, you miss those moments where you can check in and just figure them out when they’re ready to share with you.”
The Obamas’ unusually close partnership and decision-making process started long before they had children. It is now part of legend that when Michelle Robinson decided to leave her cushy office at a corporate Chicago law firm to go work at City Hall for Valerie Jarrett, then deputy chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, she asked Jarrett to have dinner with her then-fiancé before making the leap. When I ask Jarrett if she could offer any insight into how life in the White House has affected the Obamas’ relationship, she says, “They had a very good marriage going in, but it strengthened it because, well, it’s tested it. He has had some really, really tough moments in the White House, and the fact that his partner in this journey has been so steadfastly in his corner and never wavered, it teaches you every day to appreciate what you have. When you’ve had a really tough day and had to make the kinds of literally life-and-death decisions that he’s had to make in the Oval Office, to come home and know you’re safe and that your children are being well taken care of and you feel totally nurtured. . . . We joke about this: He goes home for dinner and no one’s interested in his day. They want to talk about their day. And that is such a relief. And she manages that for him.”
Find out more about Michelle Obama at Voguepedia.com.
When I paraphrase Jarrett’s observation for the president and First Lady, he shifts in his seat and leans forward. “Well, what is true is that, first and foremost, Michelle thinks about the girls. And pretty much everything else from Michelle’s perspective right now is secondary. And rightly so. She is a great mom. What is also true is Michelle’s had to accommodate”—he pauses for a long while—“a life that”—another pause—“it’s fair to say was not necessarily what she envisioned for herself. She has to put up with me. And my schedule and my stresses. And she’s done a great job on that. But I think it would be a mistake to think that my wife, when I walk in the door, is, Hey, honey, how was your day? Let me give you a neck rub. It’s not as if Michelle is thinking in terms of, How do I cater to my husband? I think it’s much more, We’re a team, and how do I make sure that this guy is together enough that he’s paying attention to his girls and not forgetting the basketball game that he’s supposed to be going to on Sunday? So she’s basically managing me quite effectively—that’s what it comes down to. I’m sure Valerie might have made it sound more romantic.” The First Lady, who has been staring at her lap through this entire answer, finally looks up and laughs.
It almost comes as a relief to see the president, so famous for his cool, get a little defensive. I bring up what someone described as his “Hawaiian mellowness” and ask the First Lady to describe this aspect of her husband. “I’ve tried to explain this guy to people over the years, but there is a calmness to him that is just . . . it has been a consistent part of his character. Which is why I think he is uniquely suited for this challenge—because there is a steadiness. And maybe it’s because of his Hawaiian upbringing—you go to Hawaii and it’s Chillsville; maybe it was because his life growing up was a little less steady, so he had to create that steadiness for himself . . . but he is that person, in all situations, over the course of these last four years, from watching the highs and lows of health-care reform to dealing with two very contentious, challenging elections. . . . The most you get from him is ‘You know, that is gonna be tough. . . .’ There are a lot of times I can’t tell how his day went. Unless I really dig down. Because when he walks through that door, he can let go of it all. And it just doesn’t penetrate his soul. And that’s the beautiful thing for me to see as his wife. That was one of the things I was worried about: How would politics affect this very decent, genuine, noble individual? And there is just something about his spirit that allows all that stuff to stay on the outside.”
Someone recently introduced me to the concept of “borrowed functioning,” something that successful couples do without even realizing it. When I describe the concept to the Obamas and confess that my partner of fifteen years is an unflappable, hard-to-read Midwesterner and that I am an emotional hothead from Jersey, they both laugh and gamely play along.
“Well, patience and calm I’m borrowing,” says the First Lady. “Or trying to mirror. I’ve learned that from my husband, that sort of, you know, ability to not get too high or too low with changes and bumps in the road . . . to do more breathing in and just going with it. I’m learning that every day. And to the extent that I’ve made changes in my life, it’s just sort of stepping back and seeing a change not as something to guard against but as a wonderful addition . . . that can make life fun and unexpected. Oftentimes, it’s the way we react to change that is the thing that determines the overall experience. So I’ve learned to let go and enjoy it and take it in and not take things too personally.”
Without missing a beat, the president says, “And what Michelle has done is to remind me every day of the virtues of order.” The First Lady lets out a big laugh. “Being on time. Hanging up your clothes. Being intentional about planning time with your kids. In some ways I think . . . we’re very different people, and some of that’s temperamental, some of it is how we grew up. Michelle grew up in a model nuclear family: mom, dad, brother. . . . She just has these deep, wonderful roots. When you go back to Chicago, she’s got family everywhere. . . . There’s just a warmth and a sense of belonging. And you know, that’s not how I grew up. I had this far-flung family, father left at a very young age, a stepfather who ended up passing away as well. My mother was this wonderful spirit, and she was adventurous but not always very well organized. And, so, what that means is that I’m more comfortable with change and adventure and trying new things, but the downside of it is, sometimes—particularly when we were early on in our marriage—I wasn’t always thinking about the fact that my free-spirited ways might be having an impact on the person I’m with. And conversely, early in our marriage, Michelle provided this sense of stability and clarity and certainty about things, but sometimes she resisted trying something new just because it might seem a little scary or push her out of her comfort zone. I think what we’ve learned from each other is that sense of. . . .”
“Balance,” she says.
“There’s no doubt I’m a better man having spent time with Michelle. I would never say that Michelle’s a better woman, but I will say she’s a little more patient.”
“I would say I’m a better woman. You couldn’t say it.”
“I couldn’t say it,” he says.
The First Lady looks at me: “It’s good that he learned not to say that.” And then turns and looks at him and smiles. “Don’t say that.”
Being around the Obamas, I am struck by a few things: They are both tall and great-looking, and his hair is not so gray. In fact, neither of them looks like they’re on either side of 50. He has beautiful hands, with long, slender fingers that make his wedding band seem enormous. Her Midwestern accent is pronounced, and his legendary Hawaiian mellowness is in full flower for most of the interview—though he is also capable of more than a little swagger. When I ask the First Lady if her husband’s mellow nature is what gets interpreted as “aloof,” she says, “Absolutely. I mean, I don’t know what people expect to see in a president. Maybe they want him to yell and scream at somebody at some point. Sometimes I’d like him to do that.” She laughs and looks at him. “But that’s just not how he deals with stress. And I think that’s something we want in our leaders.”
“It is true that I don’t get too high or I don’t get too low, day to day,” the president says. “Partly because I try to bring to the job a longer-term time frame. I’m a history buff, and I know that big changes take time. But I also know that, setting politics aside, usually things are never as good as you think they are or as bad as you think they are. And that has served me well temperamentally.”
But as the First Lady observes, “all it takes is watching him spend time on a rope line” for you to see the emotion and the connection. I got to watch the president doing just that two days earlier, in a high school gymnasium in Las Vegas after his speech on immigration, and what was unmistakable was the genuine pleasure he took in hugging and handshaking and saying “I love you back!” to the several hundred people who were screaming and crying as they reached out to touch him. It seems that he loves the attention, sure—but it struck me that he loves it to the right degree. How did the First Lady put it? “It doesn’t penetrate his soul.”
Everyone I spoke with about the Obamas said the same thing: What you see is what you get. “The president, when he goes to an event, that is the same Barack Obama who’s in a meeting,” says Dunn. “There really isn’t a divide between their private and public personas.” The First Lady’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen, says, “When people ask me, ‘What’s she really like?’ I say, ‘Well, you’re seeing it. That is exactly who she is and what she’s like.’ ”
As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reminded me, the Obamas went from relative anonymity to worldwide superfame—potent symbols of once-unimaginable progress—in the blink of an eye. Most couples take the long road to the White House; the Obamas’ zip-line arrival left them no time to develop the public personas presumed to be essential for surviving a life subject to that level of scrutiny. “There is a distance that naturally happens as you rise up the political ladder,” says Jarrett. “And I think because his rise happened so fast there was no time to create that distance.” To illustrate, she tells me a story about the time in 2004 when she was vacationing with the Obamas on Martha’s Vineyard, shortly after state senator Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston that launched him onto the national stage. “He went out for a jog,” says Jarrett, “and he came back and he said, ‘Can you believe it? Someone took a photograph of me.’ He was shocked. And we were like, ‘Really?’ He and Michelle went back to southern Illinois and suddenly they were rock stars.”
The president chooses to see their rapid ascent as an advantage. “I think that’s been very helpful . . .” he says. “We were pretty much who we are by the time I hit the national scene. We didn’t grow up or come of age under a spotlight. We were anonymous folks. I was a state senator, but nobody knows who a state senator is. So most of our 30s and 40s were as a typical middle-class family. . . . That really didn’t change until I was 45 years old. And there’s something about having lived a normal life and raised kids.” Here he slips into the syntax of his younger self. “We had to figure out how to make a mortgage, payin’ the bills, goin’ to Target, and freakin’ out when . . . the woman who’s looking after your girls while Michelle’s working suddenly decides she’s quittin’. . . . All those experiences made us who we were, so that by the time this thing hit, it was hard for us to. . . .”
“Be different people,” says the First Lady. “And I think we are accountable to each other for being who we are. There’s no way I could walk in the door and be somebody different from who I’ve been with this man for 20-some-odd years. He would laugh me out of the house!” She goes on, “And we are also blessed with families who hold us accountable.”
“Exactly,” says the president.
This reminds me of something the First Lady’s brother told me. “I played basketball in England for two years,” said Craig Robinson, “and I didn’t realize it, but apparently, I developed somewhat of an accent, and my sister and my father killed me when I came back. They were like, ‘What happened? You go to England and you have an accent?’ It would have been the same thing if Michelle had gotten to be the First Lady and started acting differently. She would have heard it from me and my mom.”
“My mother doesn’t do interviews,” says the First Lady, “but let me tell you: She is not long on pretense. She’s the first one to remind us who we are. And it’s been very helpful having her living with us. . . . We can check reality against her sensibilities.”
“Now, in fairness,” says the president, “there is one thing that’s changed.” The First Lady looks at him. “What’s that?”
“Which is, I used to only have, like, two suits,” he says.
Now you must have dozens, I say.
“Thank God,” she says. “Now, let me tell you: This is the man who still boasts about, This khaki pair of pants I’ve had since I was 20.” The president throws his head back, laughing. “And I’m like, ‘You don’t want to brag about that.’ ” Jay Carney and the young staffers from the White House press office, who are all sitting on a sofa on the other side of the room, crack up.
“Michelle’s like Beyoncé in that song,” says the president. “ ‘Let me upgrade ya!’ She upgraded me.”
“The girls and I are always rooting when he wears, like, a stripe. They’re like, ‘Dad! Oh, you look so handsome. Oh, stripes! You go!’ ”
Taking fashion advice from the First Lady wouldn’t be the worst thing the president could do. After all, she has inspired a modern definition of effortless American chic. Later she tells me this about her relationship to fashion: “I always say that women should wear whatever makes them feel good about themselves. That’s what I always try to do. . . . I also believe that if you’re comfortable in your clothes it’s easy to connect with people and make them feel comfortable as well. In every interaction that I have with people, I always want to show them my most authentic self.”
The week I am in D.C. happens to be Secretary Hillary Clinton’s last week at the State Department, and just outside Valerie Jarrett’s office, glowing on the computer screen of her longtime assistant, Katherine Branch, is a photograph taken this very day of the president and the secretary: He is signing a presidential memorandum promoting gender equality and women’s issues globally as a priority at the Department of State, a longtime cause of Clinton’s. When I remind Jarrett of the bruising primary and the rancor that colored those days before Obama nominated Clinton to his Cabinet, she laughs and then brings up the recent joint interview the former rivals gave to 60 Minutes. “I saw him yesterday and I said, ‘Did you watch the interview?’ And he goes, ‘No, I lived the interview.’ And I said, ‘You gotta watch it. What you probably aren’t aware of is how the affection that you two have for one another just came through completely.’ And he said, ‘Well, of course it did. I love her.’ ”
As we talk, Jarrett draws my attention to an elaborately framed pair of documents on the wall above the table where we are sitting. It is a birthday gift from the president, given to her just nine days after he won reelection. I get up to study them. On the left is the “petition for universal suffrage,” dated January 29, 1866; on the right, a proposal from the House of Representatives, dated May 19, 1919: “Amendment to the Constitution extending the right of suffrage to women.”
“It’s, like, the real thing!” says Jarrett. “Signed by Susan B. Anthony!” The day she opened the present in the Oval Office, she stared at it for a minute, and as the significance of the gift dawned on her, she said, “Where did you get this?” And he said, “I’m the president. I can get things.” Reminding his best friend of the legacy of those women who have come before is thoughtful, but its underlying message is echt-Obama: Progress takes time. (Fifty-three years in this case.) When I mention this to the president, he lights up. “We talk about this all the time in the White House,” he says. “In some ways the changes that have taken place in this country are amazingly rapid. There are very few examples of countries where you go, basically in one person’s lifetime, from segregation to an African-American president. And yet, we live in a culture that is impatient, and so, if things don’t happen in one month or one year, folks start wondering what’s taking so long.”
David Axelrod no longer works in the White House, but there was no more beleaguered presence on television during the first term, doggedly defending his boss against the ideologues in his own party. “I was struck,” he says, “that there were so many who were unhappy about how long, for example, it took to end the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and there were some who felt that the health-care law was insufficient. And, you know, hanging on the wall in the Oval Office was the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a reminder that there was great disquiet among many in [Lincoln’s] Republican base that he didn’t sign it immediately. And there were those who felt it wasn’t enveloping enough. But it was what he could do, and it was momentous. And you are reminded of that constantly in that building, and it’s comforting to remember that you can only judge these things in the fullness of time.”
What’s astonishing is just how suddenly such liberal-dream issues like gun control, immigration reform, and marriage equality have dominated the outset of Obama’s second term. I point out to Axelrod that these would seem to be perfect lessons in presidential patience: how unseen events can create, out of thin air, political opportunities over once intractable issues. “There’s no question about it,” he says. “We have a chance now to get immigration done, whereas we didn’t have that chance in the last four years. The awareness of the gaping holes in our gun laws is much greater now as a result of the tragedy in Newtown. But you have to grab that moment. That’s how progress is made. And the longer you serve in the presidency, the more you learn that.”
Though President Obama faces moral quagmires of every imaginable sort in every part of the world, from the Keystone oil pipeline to drone strikes to peace in the Middle East, in the big picture, he will no doubt be remembered for ordering the assassination of Osama bin Laden and ending the war in Iraq and hopefully Afghanistan. But if he accomplishes even part of the agenda he laid out in his inaugural address, he has the chance to go down in history as one of the greatest domestic-policy presidents ever. The issues that he’s prioritized—health care, reviving the economy, education, and now, gun control, immigration reform, and marriage equality—are first and foremost family issues. The First Lady’s initiatives—military families and childhood nutrition and health—likewise are about as domestic as you can get. If you think about it, who better than the man who can’t wait to get home to his wife and kids every night at 6:30—the Dad-in-Chief—to carry the flag on what the future of the American Family should look like?
“Well, I’ll tell you,” says President Obama, his wife looking at him with a beatific smile as our interview winds down, “everything we have done has been viewed through the lens of family. And I mean family broadly conceived. I was raised by a single mom. We have kids in our family who were adopted. We have people from every race, every economic stratum; we have gay and lesbian couples who have been part of our lives for years. And all of them, what’s consistent is that sense that we look out for each other. And that’s the lens through which we’ve always viewed our public service. . . . Broadening this fierce sense that we have of: I’ve got your back. Beyond just the immediate family to the larger American family, and making sure everybody’s included and making sure that everybody’s got a seat at the table. . . .
“The work I did in the first couple of years to make sure we didn’t go into a Great Depression—that was family policy. Both of us, given our upbringings, know what it’s like when money is tight. Both of us know when a parent feels disappointed because they can’t do everything they can for their kids and the stresses and strains and the emotions that arise out of that. So, making sure people have jobs, making sure the economy is working, making sure that people’s savings aren’t dissipating—those have all been family policy as well. But there’s no doubt that as we stabilize the economy, part of what I’ve tried to argue, and certainly a major theme in my inauguration speech, was this idea that we’re all family, that we have obligations to each other, that we don’t just think about ourselves. This is a common enterprise. If I live in a city where I know kids are getting a good education, my life is better, even if they’re not my kids. If I know that women are getting paid the same as men for doing the same work, then when I have daughters, I’m going to feel confident that they’re going to be able to fulfill their dreams and ambitions. If I am looking out for that same-sex couple, making sure that they’ve got the same rights as everybody else does, then I’m confident that they’ll look out for somebody in my family who has some sort of difference, that they’re not going to be discriminated against, because that same principle applies. And that idea really is sort of at the heart of, not just my presidency, but who I am. And Michelle has applied that same idea with her work in Joining Forces and thinking about kids and nutrition. Look, they’re all our kids! They’re all our families.”
The day after my interview with the Obamas, I head back to the White House to attend a presentation ceremony for the National Science & Technology Medals laureates and their families. The Marine Corps band is playing jazz in the Entrance Hall, just inside the North Portico, as the attendees mill around, sipping soda and juice. Trumpets blare, “Ruffles and Flourishes” plays, and the president makes his entrance into the East Room. “If there is one idea that sets this country apart,” he says from his blue podium, “one idea that makes us different from every other nation on Earth, it’s that here in America, success does not depend on where you were born or what your last name is. . . .”
After the presentation, I am taken into the Blue Room, where there will be an opportunity for the medal recipients to pose for photographs with the forty-fourth president of the United States of America. Word comes that it will be another 20 minutes, and so a handful of staffers and I hang in the back of the room, scrolling through our BlackBerrys. Suddenly, a side door opens, and there he is, by himself, unannounced. The president spots me standing in the back of the room and shouts, “JonaTHAN!” It is how I imagine he might say my name on the court right after I sank a three-pointer just before the buzzer to win the game.
All the technology-medal recipients, most of them men in their 70s and 80s, are lined up on either side of the president for a group photo, which the president immediately begins to art-direct himself. You two get on this side. . . . We need one more person over here. . . . You stand next to me. That man is Art Rosenfeld, known in his field as “the godfather of efficient energy.” He is 86 and frail, and as they wait for some of the others to arrive, Rosenfeld struggles a bit. Just as the other men are being hustled into the room and lined up, Obama steadies Rosenfeld and then leans down and sweetly says in his ear, in a tone that every loving father in the world would recognize: “I gotcha.”
– March 14, 2013 12:01a.m.
Obama’s popular vote totals put him in small club
The 2012 presidential election has obviously come and gone, but before we move on entirely, there’s a little tidbit of statistical trivia that struck me as interesting — and chart worthy.
Bloomberg reports today that, thanks to some provisional ballots that have now been counted in New York City, President Obama’s popular-vote total is up to 51.06%. That wouldn’t be especially interesting, were it not for the fact that Obama is the first presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to top 51% twice.
In fact, in American history, this is a feat that’s only been pulled off by six presidents: Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and now, Barack Obama.
In case you’re wondering if Reagan made the cut, he came close, but ended up with 50.7% in 1980. Plenty of other candidates might have had a better shot at this, were it not for third-party candidates.
Also, though Obama’s popular-vote win on election night seemed quite narrow, it’s now grown to about four percentage points (and roughly 5 million votes), which is a pretty comfortable margin of victory.
We can debate the utility and value of electoral “mandates,” but if they mean anything, Obama has earned enough public backing to have Congress take his agenda seriously.
WHITEMAIL! (INSTEAD OF BLACKMAIL!)-THE WHITE HOMOSEXUAL SLAVEMASTER HAS SPOKEN! -BLACKS ARE STILL SLAVES IN AMERIKKKA AND MUST OBEY! – SO OBAMA MUST OBEY! -A JOURNALIST IN NIGERIA PINPOINTS HOW OBAMA WAS FORCED TO DO IT!-FROM PUNCH NEWSPAPERS,NIGERIAMay 22, 2012
Of principles, politics and Obama’s gay gamble
May 20, 2012 by Minabere Ibelema 7 Comments
When the United States President Barack Obama stunned the world by declaring his support for same-sex marriage, he explained that it was a matter of principle. He believes in equality for all people and that extending marriage rights to gays was an extension of that principle.
But there’s more to it.
The announcement was stunning, not so much for what Obama said but when he said it.
That Obama has been sympathetic to the gay community has been quite evident. Among other things, he saw to it that the Pentagon lifted the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that forbade gay military personnel from making public their homosexuality.
And his Justice Department refrained from representing the Federal Government in cases related to the Defence of Marriage Act, a law that forbade the recognition of same-sex marriages by federal departments and agencies.
For an administration to blatantly refuse to enforce a law that was duly passed by Congress and signed by a previous President is a rather serious matter. Though it is not without precedent, in some circumstances it could be impeachable.
Therefore,as a matter of law and politics, that stance was even more consequential than Obama’s declaration of support for same-sex marriage.
What was truly stunning then was Obama’s timing. Earlier in his political career, he had unequivocally opposed same-sex marriage. Then, as President, he had responded to a related question by saying that his personal view on the matter was still evolving.
That was, of course, the kind of answer that politicians give on issues of which they fear the consequences irrespective of the side they took. So, with about six months to go before the general elections, why would Obama risk it all by taking a stance now?
Well, it is a matter of blackmail and being backed into the wall. First, the latter.
When Vice-President Joseph Biden was asked recently about same-sex marriage, he said he was “comfortable” with it. It was inevitable that Obama would be called upon again to comment on the matter.
Obama was in a political quandary. He couldn’t afford to equivocate on a matter about which his vice-president had given a pointed response. He had to declare.
And then, there was the dimension of blackmail. No, not by any gay lover. Actually, the trending news before Obama’s same-sex marriage declaration had been about the release of love letters he wrote to his girlfriend in his earlier years.
The blackmail reportedly came from Hollywood, where some big wigs were planning a major campaign fundraiser for Obama. In case you are wondering the connection, Hollywood is a gay haven, perhaps second only to San Francisco.
According to the reports, some among the fundraisers pressured Obama to take a stand on same-sex marriage. The announcement, according to this thesis, was to appease that group.
Obama can use all the fund-raising help he can get. According to Bloomberg financial services, “The price tag on the 2012 presidential election is set to be the biggest ever.” That is higher than the combined price tag of more than $1bn for the 2008 election.
Even without a challenger in the primaries, Obama’s campaign has already expended more than $172m of the close to $197m it has raised so far. Yet the general elections campaign is merely in the warm-up stage.
Obama is set to duel it out with his enormously wealthy opponent, Mitt Romney. It is a circumstance in which even the most subtle blackmail can get it done.
Even then, the declaration of support for same-sex marriage is quite a gamble. If Obama were running for office anywhere in the world outside of Europe and North America, he is probably finished. Certainly, his stock has tumbled greatly in Nigeria.
Might the declaration cost Obama the election or help him? The best permutation at this time is, it all depends. Here’s what the political chessboard looks like.
Recent opinion polls show that a slight majority of Americans say that same sex marriage should be allowed.
The people who are most put off by Obama’s support of same-sex marriage are religious conservatives. But they vote solidly Republican, anyway. So, Obama has few votes to lose among them.
However, Obama’s staunchest supporters — blacks and Hispanics — are also overwhelmingly against same-sex marriage. Yet, he needs a heavy turnout by them — all voting predominantly for him — to win the election.
Obama knows this too well. His very next action after the announcement was to call the pastors of America’s largest and most influential black churches to explain himself. Predictably, he didn’t get many alleluias from them.
In fact, black pastors were already besieged with phone calls, texts and emails from dumbfounded members of their congregations seeking guidance. Many pastors had to address the issue in prayer meetings and Sunday sermons, with most disapproving but urging understanding.
“I believe the statement the president made and his decision was made in good faith. I am sure because the president is a good man,” Bishop Timothy Clark, of the First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, told his congregation, according to USA Today.
In any case, African Americans’ support for Obama is so overwhelming and strong that it is unlikely that he will lose a lot of their votes in November. As would be predicted by the theory of cognitive dissonance, they are likely to find ways to rationalise away Obama’s decision.
The same may not be true of Hispanics, however. They are predominantly Catholic and, therefore, more conservative than African Americans in their view of social matters.
Independent voters, whose swings almost always determine the outcomes of presidential election, are another concern for Obama. Among them are people who are still sitting on the fence and for whom Obama’s position may be the tipping factor to the other side.
But the common wisdom is that independent voters tend to be swayed more by economic matters than social issues.
What is certain about all this is that Obama is an astute politician. He must have done the permutations and liked how the numbers turned out.
Echewe ozo May 20, 2012 at 7:37 am
If obama’s fada is a gay could he ve born obama d u.s president of today,when a man meets a woman during ovulation conception takes place nd dat is hw our mother’s bore us all,so dis unnatural method abi na shit una wan born,no bi shit fil d anus.to support stupidity or stupid gay is to make ve human extinction,b wise obama.
James May 20, 2012 at 9:00 am
A confused society indeed.
michael May 20, 2012 at 10:46 am
AGBEKE AYANTUGA May 22, 2012 at 12:28 pm
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On Fulton Street, contemplating an all-black election.
By Mark Jacobson Published Oct 14, 2011 ShareThis
(Photo: Illustration by Martin Ansin)
ike Ali and Frazier, two brothers for the championship of the world.” This was how it would be if, by some crazy chance, Barack Obama and Herman Cain wound up going head-to-head in November 2012, said Tommy Red, who was in the midst of getting his biweekly haircut at Levels Barbershop on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. His comparison was apt, Red insisted, buzz-cutters on the back of his neck. Ali was the artiste, the thinker with the pedigreed jab, “a mystical” individual, almost godlike. Smokin’ Joe, on the other hand, he was Everyman, the down-to-earth “grits and potatoes” grinder who kept on coming.
If Obama were Ali, and Cain took the Frazier role, that’s what it would come down to, said Red, who looked to be in his middle forties and said he was a “barely” employed construction worker. “You want Ali to win, but maybe you got more in common with Frazier.” It was Red’s position that a hypothetical race between Obama and Cain—straight up, with only black people voting, party affiliations excluded—might be “closer than you think.”
Red’s position was rebutted by his fellow patrons. “Herman Cain is nothing but a buffoon and a shill,” said Billy C., a 28-year-old in the middle of receiving treatment for his distressed dreadlocks. Billy had his problems with Obama, whom he wished had a bit more Frazier-like grit in his Harvard Goody Two-Shoes heart and soul. Billy was, after all, like many in the barbershop, and millions across the country, unemployed. He was onboard with the standard hood analysis that the Bushes had picked the country clean and then let the brother take the inevitable fall for it all. Still, you couldn’t totally absolve Obama. To do so would be to make him one more black victim of the white system, a self-defeating characterization at best. Still, Herman Cain? Cain was a leftover from another time, “a damn fool pizza CEO signed up to do whatever people in power say as long as he keeps getting his.”
Many felt Cain was little more than this year’s Jimmy McMillan, the candidate’s endlessly parroted “9-9-9” tax refrain holding no more water than McMillan’s “rent is too damn high” clown act. Cain was one more court jester, the Putney Swope at the table, and he wasn’t even good at it. He kept blowing the timing on the repeating punch line. The dude had allowed himself to be chumped by Michele Bachmann, who somehow came up with the crack about turning the nines upside down so everyone could see the devil in Cain’s details. On Fulton Street, few were willing to entertain the possibility of voting for a guy Bachmann could get over on like that.
It is a well-worn trope in the black community that once you get rich, you’re free to become a Republican. Even Jackie Robinson supported Nelson Rockefeller. But the idea that Herman Cain was supposed to be in the lead for the Republican nomination inspired widespread incredulity because how—just how—could a black man be in the lead for the Republican nomination during tea-party times? With Romney ceiling-glued at roughly 25 percent, Cain’s rise in the polls was in inverse proportion to the decline of Bachmann and Rick Perry. The huddled masses of Confederate-flag-flying Bachmann and Perry voters turning their yearning, hungry eyes to Herman Cain? Oh, yeah, that made a lot of sense.
There were times when to be black in America meant you could never be too paranoid. The fix was in, many people uptown and in Bed-Stuy thought. But which fix? A phone call to the Reverend Al Sharpton turned up the following quote: “You put Cain against Obama, straight up in the black community? Obama’ll win by about 95 to 3, with the rest staying home for rain. Cain’s not even running for the black vote. He came to New York, who did he talk to? Donald Trump! He didn’t go to Harlem, Brooklyn, anywhere black people live. What does that tell you? If Cain reminds any black person of anyone, it isn’t themselves, it is their grandfather, that old southern guy. Things have changed since then, just the Republicans don’t know it.”
Sharpton is in line with people who feel Cain is the GOP’s latest ham-fisted Frankenstein obsession to invent the perfect black Republican. In this scenario, they’d build Cain up, float fake stories about how he’s “in the running” to be Romney’s vice-president, and, when that dries up, use the former Pillsbury exec as what one person called “the No. 1 Negro in charge of Obama-bashing.” If Cain succeeded in slicing 5 or 10 percent off Obama’s black vote, the operation would be a success.
Fair or not to Cain (who is already complaining that “liberal, leftist folk” in the black community are “racist” in their assumption that minority politicians cannot be conservative), one indisputable fact will remain: It was possible, at least for this fleeting instant in time, to have a halfway serious conversation about two black men running against each other for president. It won’t last, but it’ll be weird while it does.
Have good intel? Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loyal black base craves a fighter in the Oval Office
But debate rages: Has Obama done enough to help African-Americans?
By Tim Funk and Celeste Smith
Posted: Sunday, Oct. 09, 2011
It’s the lunch hour, and President Barack Obama is live, talking jobs, on a big TV screen at No Grease Exclusive Barber Shop in uptown Charlotte.
Along with the NBA labor troubles and the sour economy, the country’s first African-American president is a hot topic in this shop, which cuts the hair of about 400 customers every week.
So Jermaine Johnson, who co-owns No Grease with twin brother Damian, has heard it all in what’s become a raging debate over whether Obama is doing enough to help a hurting African-American community whose enthusiasm and high turnout were crucial to him winning North Carolina and the White House in 2008.
“They talk about the (difficulty) he’s having in passing any new ideas that will help stimulate the economy,” Jermaine Johnson, 38, says of the chatter from his customers. “The word on the street is that the Republicans are turning down anything he puts forth.”
But barber-chair pollster Johnson also is hearing something else: If Obama expects the black community to be there for him in equal numbers in 2012, he needs to become more of a fighter.
“We would like to see a little more bravado from this president – the cowboy going in there to make it happen,” says Johnson, whose shop is a few doors down from Time Warner Cable Arena, where Democrats will nominate Obama for a second term next year.
“He’s been doing what’s expected in politics – crossing lines and trying to get the parties together … But I think he’s over-exhausted it. He’s done it too long. It’s time to stand up for what you believe.”
Apparently, the president has been getting the same advice from political advisers who are concerned about his declining poll numbers, including among his base in the black community. A Washington Post-ABC News Poll last month found that 58 percent of African-Americans had “strongly favorable” views of Obama – down from 83 percent in the spring.
In recent weeks, Obama has been barnstorming the country, promoting his $450 billion American Jobs Act and leading town hall chants for Congress to “pass this bill now.”
He plans to bring his case to North Carolina the week of Oct. 17 as a part of a bus caravan that also will take him to Virginia, another 2012 swing state.
With this new tone, says Urban League of Central Carolinas President Patrick Graham, Obama is going back to his roots: “You’re seeing more of the community organizer.”
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, says it’s about time.
“A lot of people have been frustrated that he’s bent over backwards (to work with Republicans),” says Watt, whose district includes much of Charlotte. “Now he’s starting to draw lines and differentiate himself. It’s what people have been looking for.”
‘Our people are hurting’
The president’s new populism comes after weeks of criticism from some high-profile black leaders, who have said that Obama was not addressing the needs of the African-American community, where unemployment is much higher than the national rate.
Among blacks in Charlotte, the jobless rate is more than 19 percent. In August, Charlotte’s overall unemployment rate was 9.8 percent.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., wondered aloud why a previous Obama bus tour over the summer made stops in the rural Midwest, but not in, say, urban Detroit.
“We’re supportive of the president but we’re getting tired, y’all,” she said at an August jobs fair in Detroit that was sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. “We want to give the president every opportunity to show what he can do and what he’s prepared to lead on. But our people are hurting.”
PBS and radio talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University professor Cornel West also have taken shots at Obama. In their “Poverty Tour” bus trip in August, they charged that Obama has failed to stand up for the poor. (The show airs on PBS this week.)
Former Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson last week blasted the president from the other side of the ideological spectrum, saying he should “recalibrate” his targeting of the wealthy in his tax proposals and rhetoric.
“You don’t get people to like you by attacking them or demeaning their success,” said Johnson, one of the country’s wealthier Democrats.
But this heated debate over the first black president’s record and tactics as election year nears also has drawn plenty of Obama backers.
Other prominent radio and TV personalities – including Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey and the Rev. Al Sharpton – have defended Obama and attacked West and Smiley.
The president got an enthusiastic reception at a recent Black Caucus dinner even as he invited members in a fiery speech to stop their complaining and “put on your marching shoes. …We are going to press on.”
And most African-Americans who’ve been heard from – the famous and the rank-and-file – couldn’t disagree more with Johnson’s plea to go easier on the rich and try yet again to compromise with the GOP on Capitol Hill.
Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt says he would advise the president to stay in the bully pulpit “instead of pulling back and allowing the Congress to make certain decisions and then stepping into the fray. He’s really got to tell the American people what he wants.”
Claude Mayse, 57, a Charlottean who’s unemployed and has been unable to find a sales job, likes the tougher Obama. On everything from the shape of the health reform plan to the size of the economic stimulus package, Mayse says, “I felt like (Obama) compromised too much.”
Now, Mayse adds approvingly, “he’s circumventing (the Republicans) and going straight to the people.”
Enthusiasm is the key
No one is predicting that the frustration out there will cause black voters to cross over en masse and back Obama’s GOP challenger. Not even Herman Cain, an African-American businessman who’s a hit with a surging number of mostly white Republicans, generated much interest among local black voters interviewed last week by the Observer.
The latest breakdown from Public Policy Polling found that 87 percent of North Carolina blacks approve of Obama – down from the 90-plus percent support he received at the polls in 2008, but still very high. (Among all Americans, Obama’s favorability rate now averages 46 percent; among all North Carolinians, 44 percent.)
But polls don’t always measure enthusiasm. Turnout numbers do, and in 2008, black turnout increased by almost 5 percent nationally, while white turnout slightly declined.
If the excitement level for the president is only so-so come Election Day 2012, many black voters may not bother to go to the polls, worries Joel Ford, who was Mecklenburg County Democratic Party chairman when Obama was elected in 2008. That year, Obama carried one westside precinct, 639 votes to 8 – 98.6 percent.
“There is a possibility that some will stay home, and a possibility that some won’t stand in lines,” Ford says. “The president’s got work to do.”
Barber shop co-owner Jermaine Johnson says he and his brother have a lot of “newly unemployed” people among their clientele. And though these customers don’t look to Obama to single-handedly solve their problem, Johnson says, “when you have a president who looks like you and he still can’t push the envelope for you, you get some frustration.”
On the other hand, Johnson says, frustration in the black community also has given rise to, perhaps, a more realistic view about the limits to what one person – even the president of the United States – can do.
“I think it’s still going to be a big (African-American) turnout (in 2012),” he says. “But I don’t think it’s going to be a lot of ‘rah rah’ … because, during his first term, a lot more people have gotten educated on what he can and cannot do.”
There’s also a growing sense that Obama inherited maybe the toughest plate of problems, national and international, since Franklin Roosevelt, who took office during the Great Depression. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were draining money and troops. And the financial meltdown that rocked Wall Street and threatened banks just weeks before Election Day 2008 were causing mass job losses.
“A lot of people are having a reality check,” says veteran Charlotte radio personality Beatrice Thompson, news and public affairs director and talk show host for WBAV and WPEG. “I don’t think anyone truly understood what condition the country was in. … I have to admire (Obama) for not losing his cool given what he had to work with.”
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx says Obama’s seriousness in trying to deal with those big challenges will eventually win over many voters – black and white – who may now feel ambivalent about the president.
“He’s had a tough hand dealt to him, and he’s had to make some tough calls,” says Foxx, who spearheaded the campaign to bring Obama’s 2012 convention to Charlotte. “When the story is told, I think many, many, many people will come back and support him.”
Still, Foxx and others acknowledge that there’s been some complaining that Obama has not paid enough attention to the needs of an African-American community that was there for him in 2008.
Gantt says that same tension was there in the 1980s, when he became the first African-American to be elected Charlotte’s mayor.
“That’s a touchy thing for an African-American president,” he says. “You still have to convince a lot of your electorate – because of your skin color – that you’re there to support the cause of all Americans.”
Johnson C. Smith University senior Kirsten Anderson Hall, an aspiring city manager who’s 20 and will be casting her first presidential vote next year, says she agrees – and disagrees.
“It’s the United States of America, not the United States of America and black people,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean he needs to displace us and forget about us.”
The debate goes on
Back at No Grease, the challenge for Obama is evident from this conversation between customer Jason Vicks, 37, who owns a restaurant and real estate agency, and his barber.
Vicks: “Obama is not doing the hiring. Obama is our president. He can only do what he is able to do…. Obama does not own the restaurant up the street or any business (where) he could employ African-Americans.”
Damian Johnson: “He can create the opportunities for us to hire (black people). If we’re ever going to have an opportunity as a people – black people here in America – this is our prime time to do it, with an African-American president. … He needs to stand up to the powers that be.”
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Thanks to Obama, U.S. is safer since 9/11
The President deserves credit for taking out bin Laden, Gadhafi, and al-Rahman, al Qaeda’s number two leader.Photo: The White House (Flickr)
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 – Ad Lib by Catherine Poe
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EASTON, Md, August 31, 2011 — President Obama has been taking it on the chin from both Right and the Left this past year.
The Right, of course, gives him credit for nothing, and the Left has been none too happy with his domestic agenda, from watered down health care reform to a weak stimulus package to his timid negotiations with GOP leaders.
However, there is one area where he deserves high praise, and that’s his foreign policy. While many Americans don’t always understand his strategy and have been irritated by the slow withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve generally underestimated his ability to be strong and decisive in the Middle East, resulting in a safer America.
It all began in June 2009 with his famous Cairo speech where he laid the groundwork for what has become known as The Arab Spring:
“I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”
Today in Egypt, those very words have become the seeds for the revolution that ultimately toppled Hosni Mubarek and then rode the winds of change to Syria and Libya. The Arab Summer is now in full flower.
Arab Summer in the Desert
Of course, his team of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates deserve a big chunk of the credit and our thanks. Fortunately, Obama kept Gates on. Originally appointed by George W. Bush, Gates has been one of the truly outstanding cabinet officers in both administrations. And again fortunately, Hillary Clinton didn’t go off in a snit after she lost the primary to Obama but agreed to be his Secretary of State.
We won’t know the full story behind this triumvirate’s successes until years from now when they sit down and write their memoirs, but it is obvious that Obama heeded President Teddy Roosevelt’s admonition that America’s leaders “need to speak softly, but carry a big stick and you will go far.”
Osama bin Laden
Now comes the results of that soft diplomacy on another level, the use of that “big stick” to put an end to three major terrorists: Osama bin Laden, Moammar Gadhafi and Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. What? You never heard of the last guy? A lot of people haven’t, but more on him later.
Bin Laden: When the world learned that President Obama had ordered the Navy Seals to take out Osama bin Laden on May 2, we were both shocked and joyous. Shocked that all along, the President had been zeroing in on bin Laden like a laser. “No Drama Obama” was patient, just biding his time.
And we were joyous, of course, that the mastermind behind the destruction of the Twin Towers and the deaths of thousands of Americans was no more. It is supposed to be heartless and wrong to celebrate the death of someone, even an enemy, but I suspect in this case, not even Jesus would have turned the other cheek.
Gadhafi: When the President first decided to help the Libyan rebels by lending air support to NATO’s efforts to pry Gadhafi out of Tripoli and then Libya, I was angry. He was acting unilaterally, only letting Congress and the American people know after the fact. It’s true that for 42 years Gadhafi was more than a thorn in America’s side. He was also a major exporter of terrorism, bringing down Pan Am 103 in 1988. But President Obama’s actions, even if he were “leading from behind” smacked of Cheney-style foreign policy.
However, if we and NATO had not stepped in, there is little doubt that Gadhafi would have mowed down the rebels like so much winter wheat. Our intervention – from air power to intelligence – gave the rebels the edge they needed and they soon put this cruel despot in a desperate situation.
His wife, two sons, and a daughter have escaped to Algeria. Where he is at this writing is not known. However, Gadhafi can run, but he can’t hide. Even now, he may be holed up as was Saddam Hussein in some “spider’s hole” in the desert. But he will be found and, if captured alive, he will be tried as a war criminal.
So President Obama’s plan, one of biding his time and patience, again paid off, with Libya being free within six months of our intervention and without a single American death or even one boot on the ground.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi (Photo: Associated Press)
Yes, I still wish the President had adhered to the War Powers Act of 1973, but to watch another terrorist bite the dust is oh, so sweet.
Is It A Trifecta?
Al-Rahman: Last week, a drone strike in Pakistan took out Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan and the No. 2 man who, as Al Qaeda’s top operations planner, was much more dangerous to us than some of the other No. 2’s who have been killed or captured in the past.
He had been bin Laden’s right hand man.
“Atiyah was at the top of Al Qaeda’s trusted core,” an unnamed American official has explained. “His combination of background, experience and abilities are unique in Al Qaeda — without question, they will not be easily replaced.”
Before bin Laden’s death, al-Rahman had not only been disseminating the leader’s messages to the terrorist network, but had ensured bin Laden’s words reached the world as well.
More importantly, the two men plotted strategy, from how to make a deal with Pakistan to be their safe haven to how to strengthen al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and North Africa, including better use of the radical American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in the Arabian Peninsula.
Losing someone as essential to al Qaeda operations as al-Rahman has severely undermined the core organization and further weakened the ability of its current leader Ayman al-Zawahri (who succeeded bin Laden) to keep control of the already fracturing group.
al-Rahman National Counter Terrorism Center
It is also true that during the seven years following 9/11, we had no attacks on our soil from terrorists outside of our country, and we thwarted a great many others here and abroad. And for this President Bush deserves credit and our thanks.
But the death of bin Laden and al-Rahman, and now the liberation of Libya are three events that have made us even safer. Not entirely safe, since our enemies are still out there, but we are safer than we were last year at this time.
So I must give credit where credit is due and say thanks to the President and his team for making the Arab Spring and now the Arab Summer possible.
Now if only President Obama would take that same steely resolve to facing down the implacable Republican Congress. I don’t know, but maybe fighting terrorism is easier.
To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib in the Communities at the Washington Times. She can also be heard on the Democrats for America’s Future.
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