The Barack Obamas [2011, Meet 2008]

Jose Vilson Jose

For months, possibly years, I’ve been waiting for this Barack Obama to make an appearance to the general public:

Hot-damn. The Barack Obama of 2008 made an appearance again at the MLK Memorial today to thousands of people watching in DC and on CSPAN. (For full text, here’s more.) I was not aware that any version of the President would show up to this memorial today, but if I did, I would have asked this one to come. This is the one I swung open the curtains for, the one I pulled the lever with. This is the one I cast my post-destructive-George-Bush-the-2nd upon, and whom I believed that, despite his positions on education, would improve the bottom line for those who needed this help the most. This is the same Barack Obama who I thought would walk along side us in Wisconsin, would silence the guns locally and abroad, would more readily welcome our brothers and sisters abroad and looking for a chance, and would put a dent into a government broken by the very very few.

Alas, I found that, nested within that representative, the pragmatism and middling of Barack Obama 2009-10 appeared. These two Barack Obamas look alike, for sure, the latter greyer and less photo-opportunistic. Yet, I sincerely lost almost all hope and came crashing with the reality that he willingly took part in the continuation of the America that perpetuates the schism of haves and have-nots. In winning the Nobel Prize, he understood the irony of starting a war in another Middle Eastern country. In shaking hands with Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg, he allowed people who exacerbated the achievement gap and over-testing to take control, even as he told those of us who speak Spanish that he would not want the same for his own children.

Alas, this speech symbolizes his first term, a capsule of the two Barack Obamas.

Sure, some politicians might consider me unfair. Every politician makes promises that exceed what actually happens in their tenure. Some presidents might exceed their own expectations by chance or with some of the conditions they create, allowing them to make broad-stroking programs that cement their ostentatious legacies. Barack Obama, having to take over the Oval Office from a president who hammered nails into a resurging economy and more than half of the original tenets in the Bill of Rights, had no choice but to follow the given program because the American people fear change. And fear him.

Yet, I can’t accept that. We who cast our votes for him (with an overwhelming majority) had hoped that, amongst other things, he would show courage and conviction in very specific moments. Some of us who are more sensible than others knew there wouldn’t be radical change, but if we thought that Barack would continue to assure progress on the items that the American people care about most, then he’d be well on the way to putting us on the right track. With a re-election campaign in the early phases, Obama has already tossed out bits of his 2008 version to his target audiences, the Jobs Bill largest amongst them.

I just wish he took more of that self even after he won. In one of his speeches in 2008, he implored us, both malcontents and well-wishers, to keep pushing him, keep vocalizing. Implicitly, he meant that to say that, as a politician, he can only do as much as the American public asked him to. Today, he reiterates that by analogizing himself with Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who helped pave the way for Barack to ascend to the White House. As if to parody himself, he states that it’s not just about soaring oratory, but concrete action.

2008 Obama, welcome back to the fore. Unlike Martin Luther King, you have a chance to make things right now …

Mr. Vilson, who has been paying attention, and lots of it …