Monday, June 29, 2015

The Age of Obama? Yes.

All of the sudden, reality has struck.

The pundits are acknowledging that Obama is one of the best presidents in our history.

All along he has been beloved and admired by those of us who see him clearly, but he was still viewed by the smart set as somehow rather pathetic, the man of the "might have been". Even those who acknowledged he had done a lot thought he had done it all wrong. He had rescued the country from the recession but not spent enough on the recovery. He got a health care bill but went for it too soon and should have worked on the recovery longer. He should've been tougher with the GOP Congress except that he should have been nicer. And on and on. Then, like a clap of thunder, in this past week he has been suddenly granted the stature he should've have had all along. "Amazing Grace", indeed! It's like a Hollywood movie.

In this lovely scenario, it took only two decisions by the Supreme Court to raise him to the heights of acknowledgement. On one day last week the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, by a resounding 6-3, against a challenge made on the slimmest of grounds. Four words had been put into the act by clear error that went against the entire plan of the rest of the act. Anyone who writes legislation, analyzes it for legislatures or administrators, or teaches it—all things I have done—knows full well that a correct interpretation of any section of a law must comport with the rest of that law. The snake must not eat its own tail.

In this case, four words out of a 900 page law were being used by the enemies of Obamacare so as to swallow the whole snake.  Unless the Court set aside those four words as the error they clearly were, six million Americans would immediately lose their health care coverage and another 10 million would be deprived as the dominoes continued to fall in the ACA's collapse. Probably of even greater concern to Chief Justice Roberts and his fellow Republican, Justice Kennedy, was the looming damage to the insurance industry.

In the second decision a couple of days later, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court again looked at some facts of life: that most of the states were permitting same-sex marriage and that opposition to gay marriage is collapsing among the public, with 60% of Americans instead supporting it. You can't go on denying a basic right to hundreds of thousands of Americans, perhaps millions, in a minority of states because a majority of the people in those states want to deny them that right. In a democracy the majority decides the laws, but in American democracy basic rights are never decided just by a majority. We are protective of the basic rights of even the one. Popular opinion does not protect your free speech, your right to a fair trial, your freedom from unreasonable search. The courts protect such rights. Among these basic rights is marriage. The pursuit of happiness.

The Court did not say that it was deciding these cases on the basis of undeniable realities. But that's what it did. Obamacare could not be forced into collapse; same sex couples cannot, as a practical matter any longer be denied the basic right of marriage because they live in the wrong state.

Whether it meant to or not, the Court also affirmed the position of President Obama as a "transformational" president, to use the term applied by the dean of the media political corps, Chuck Todd of NBC's "Meet The Press". The decisions "cemented" Obama's achievement of a "legacy" that would now make this "the Obama era".  These are all words used by Chuck Todd, today's version of Tim Russert and Walter Cronkite.

Somehow those who were previously stingy with praise for Obama now could not say enough good about him.  Jumping on the bandwagon it is called.  Almost all that was right in a remarkable week was perceived to reflect well on him. Long denied the gratitude and admiration that should have been his, he now benefited from things as diverse as the truly Christian forgiveness nine families extended to the man who had killed their loved ones. And the sudden  movement in the Deep South to take down the Confederate flag also seemed inexplicably to be to Obama's credit. When a spectacular rainbow appeared over the 50th anniversary celebration concert of the Grateful Dead, even some of that glow seemed to envelop the President.

For once he and his team seemed to have a sure grasp of something that has eluded them for 6 1/2 years: getting him credit. The exterior of the White House was awash in rainbow colors. And at the funeral in Charleston for the nine assassinated, Obama himself gently extended the nine families' grace to all of us and began singing "Amazing Grace".

Finally, the man and the moment have met. Hearts have been lifted by grace within tragedy. Hearts have been freed to marry. Terror of illness without health care has been driven away. There has not been such joy in the land since that golden night in Chicago's Grant Park when a million people came to cheer the miracle of an African-American president being elected in this country. That night tears ran down the faces of Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey and me. We knew, those aging warriors and I, as did the young dancing in the streets around the globe....we knew we had entered into a new era.

Now everybody else knows it too. It truly was the dawning of "the age of Obama", as Chuck Todd calls it. Since 2008, we have walked free of thirty-five years of Reagan conservatism into an era of hope for people who are sick and of change for those who yearned to marry the ones they love. There is even more to the Obama legacy. But I'll not review it right now. I have written about it before.

Yes, more praise is due Obama. Because his legacy is broader than what was acknowledged this week. A fine legacy, broad  and deep, intelligent and kind. He has gone from being a very young man to being a good father to all of us.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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