Becoming

Back in November Mom and I went to see Michelle Obama speak at TD Garden in Boston. Despite the massive crowd, Obama managed to make the Q&A feel like a friendly, intimate chat between friends. Before she took the stage, a brief documentary about her background played on the giant screens suspended above the stadium. It made me emotional, remembering what it was like back when her husband came into office. How hopeful I felt as I’m sure many did.  How did we go from such dignity to the bottom of the barrel?

Only in America, I guess.

For Christmas Mom got Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” in audio version which I promptly borrowed, copied into my iTunes and am currently listening to during my annoying, soul-sucking commutes.

I’m enjoying it immensely. It’s very insightful. For those who keep wondering if Michelle will run for office someday I can inform you, it will not happen. (I hope I’m wrong but,) she was not into her husband running for office and was not a fan of political life.

I am taken even more with how impressive she and her husband are. As she talks about the way her husband operated as a young man – the voracious reading, the optimism, the endless energy, the drive to make things better, his admiration for her and dedication to their family, I am taught what a completely exceptional and rare human being he is. How could I ever hope to have someone of his ilk come along in time for our next election? They won’t, because this man was a once in a lifetime person.

Right now in the book, a little over halfway through, Obama has just been elected. Michelle describes the experience of waiting for the polls to come in while she and her family and staff watch the results from their hotel room. She describes riding in the limo from the hotel room to Grant Park for the celebration of his being nominated, and I couldn’t help but think about where I was at that moment – in line with Shannon to enter the park to be there for this historical event. 

On their way to Grant Park back in 2008, Malia, then ten, looked out the window of the limo at the empty streets and told her dad with concern “There’s no one here, Daddy! I don’t think they’re come to your celebration!”. Her parents laughed and explained that everyone was already at the park (and of course the streets had been emptied for their motorcade).

I remember the excitement we all felt. Someone in line would get off their flip phone and announce what they just learned from a friend “We just took Florida!” or “Ohio went to Obama!” The results were still coming in even as we stood in line. We were there to celebrate or support, whatever the outcome, though I remember we were quite confident that a celebration was coming.

Which is why I was surprised to learn from the book about the Bradley Effect. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections. Many black candidates would fall in the same way for years to come. The concept being that voters hide their bigotry when questioned by pollsters, but show it in the privacy of the voting booths.

Michelle talks about coming out onto the stage at Grant Park to find the stage encased in bullet-proof glass.

How did that man not get assassinated in the eight years he was in office or since? How did we never hear of attempts on his life even? I’m sure there must have been some. There must have also been some seriously excellent security detail and staff.

Now that I know what I know about my fellow countrymen, I am even more astonished that Barak Obama is alive today. And I’m grateful too. I feel better just knowing someone like him exists.

Listening to Michelle tell the story of that day brought back hopeful memories which, mixed with the gray, muddy, slushy, muck of our political world today, was hard to think about. It just feels so far away.

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