JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Barack Obama and missed greatness

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was wrapping up his presidential campaign, I thought to myself, “This man just might have greatness in him.”

I wasn’t 100 percent certain, but hearing him speak … watching him inspire hope … seeing the reactions people had to his words, well, I’d seen precious few people carry that sort of swag. We are, after all, a country always looking to be inspired and moved; always looking for that beacon of light atop a hill. Here, in Barack Obama, I thought we were in for something genuinely different.

I was, it turns out, mistaken.

I don’t think Barack Obama has been a terrible president. He’s 1,000 times better than George W. Bush; 100 times better than Jimmy Carter; 10 times better than Gerald Ford. But, come day’s end, he’s, well, sorta mediocre. Always compromising, always taking the meek way out; always talking an incredibly great game while delivering lukewarm leftovers. The president I thought I was voting for was a fighter; a battler; a leader; a man who held certain steadfast beliefs and would do anything—anything—to fight for them.

Again, I was mistaken.

What has inspired me to write such words was New York State’s recent legalization of gay marriage. Much credit goes to Andrew Cuomo, our governor, who took the lead on a controversial issue and, through much backroom negotiating, made it happen. Years from now, he will go down as a central figure in the battle for equality; a leader who, when called upon, led.

Meanwhile, our president—a liberal man from a liberal state; someone who knows what it is to struggle as a minority—has done shit on the issue. S-h-i-t. He wooed gay and lesbian voters with big talk; he accepted their donations with the faint promise of being their spokesperson. And yet, here we are, the tide changing, and the man who should be guiding the way takes zero (literally, zero) action. It is embarrassing. And pathetic. And, worst of all, weak.

The argument comes: Oh, it wouldn’t be politically wise. He has an election to win in 2012. The nation isn’t ready. Well, bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Back when John F. Kennedy and, with his death, Lyndon Johnson (a friggin’ Texan, for Christ’s sake!) fought for (and passed) the Civil Rights Bill, they had much to lose. So many states were against it … so many Southern Democrats would never forgive their party … yet Kennedy and Johnson kept in mind the most important thing: They were right. And they were willing to fight.

Our president is unwilling to fight. He is soft and genteel, and while I applaud the capture of Osama and was psyched for health care reform (which, even in its passing, he wussed-out on) and believe some of his fiscal policies saved us from even greater disaster, I am horribly dissatisfied by his overall record.

To hell with politics.

I want a leader.

PS: That said, not this leader.