Last night, Barack Obama, President of the United States, spoke to an audience that had heard him speak countless times. His ostensible task was to make clear that support of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bid for the presidency would be an endorsement of the work begun and completed during his administration. In effect he spoke to those who wished we might have four more years of Barack Obama’s intelligence, courage, leadership, and grace, promising that the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton would secure the legacy of Obama’s years in office. With characteristic modesty and wit, he spoke as few leaders in our time have spoken. FDR spoke with assurance and comforting sincerity; Winston Churchill’s oratorical skills were magnificent, and his mastery of rhetoric impressive. Barack Obama, however, is clearly a very bright guy who speaks with the plain language of personal investment in the causes he champions and personal conviction in addressing the outrages he deplores.
The short video introducing Obama’s appearance emphasised the President’s calm, steady equilibrium, even when pushed to the limits of his patience. A nation has seen his tears in describing children killed in Connecticut and on the streets of Chicago, yet, even in those moments of personal pain and frustration, Obama returned to statements of hope and shared responsibility for a better future. His skill as a speaker is remarkable, yet for many, the most compelling moment of his presidency may have been in his singing of Amazing Grace in the service for the Rev. Clementa Pickney, pastor at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killed with eight others at a Bible study meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. He took the unthinkable risk of appearing ridiculous or disrespectful, not to ease his own pain, but to do what he could in that moment to help that congregation, and the nation, begin to heal.
It took rare inspiration and rare courage to begin the hymn. Within seconds every person present was raised in singing with him.
In eulogizing Pickney, Obama said, “We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance.”
Those words describe Barack Obama, and after years of facing contention, contempt, partisan vilification, and hatred, he stood before an audience that had already begun to grieve the loss of this good man, an audience showering him with affection, an audience hoping in some fashion to say, “thank you”.