I had an epiphany the other day. I was not on the road to Damascus. Rather is was driving down New Jersey Avenue looking at the U. S. Capitol building in the morning light. And with that epiphany I changed my mind about Barack Obama.
I have been horribly impatient with him, with the pace of progress, with the oppressive burden of 30 years of idiocy and pseudo-conservatism. Like many liberals, I wanted everything done now. I wanted a dynamic president who demanded change. Now.
But I was wrong.
Bear with me while I digress.
Once upon a time -- just about half a century ago -- we elected another young president, the first Roman Catholic, to the presidency. He wasn't a liberal as he may romantically seem in retrospect, but he was a breath of fresh air. He was visibly strong in the face of miitary threats and talked about wonderful plans. In the beginning he seemed like the answer to the plodding Eisenhower years, yet he accomplished little.
Folks tend to toss that off as the result of his assassination, but I don't think that's true. I think he was destined to be a different kind of agent of change. His main job was to make a Roman Catholic president not so scary to the American people, to reassure us that the Pope wasn't in charge of Washington. (This may seem ridiculous to folks now, but it wasn't then. It was a huge issue.) And he did that. He put to rest the concerns about putting a Roman Catholic into the White House. And he created a space wherein his successor was able to accomplish some of what Mr. Kennedy spoke of.
I think that Mr. Obama is another such president.
It now seems to me that Mr. Obama's job is to show us that we needn't be afraid of an African-American president, to reassure us that there won't be watermelon growing on the White House lawn, to teach us that we don't have to cringe in fear because a black man walks down the street or hails a cab. He can't do that by being angry, by being insistent, by pushing us and rushing us and making demands. He can only do that by being the rock steady person that he appears to be, unflappable and pleasant.
Perhaps if he survives his first term he can be more dynamic in his second. Or perhaps cleaning up the mess of the past 30 years will have to wait for his successor. But I am convinced we, as a nation, need this time. We need the zealots and bigots to rage and scream while the president stays steady. And by doing just that he allows this nation with its horridly racist undertones to move just a little bit closer to a place where race doesn't matter.