This morning flipped on CNN, as I do every morning over my coffee and paper. A live broadcast was already in progress of a live town hall meeting of Obama in France.
Over the last eight years I've become so accustomed to cringing in embarrassment whenever our President spoke abroad that I was prepared turn the volume down and read my morning paper, letting the Prez just drone on in the background.
As it turned out, I never even glanced at my paper. From the get go I was riveted.
Fine, go ahead, call me a wuss, a sucker, a dupe. Who knows, maybe time will prove you right.
But for now I am convinced of this; Barack H. Obama is not your father's Oldsmobile. And he most certainly is no George W. Bush, for which we can all breathe a gigantic sigh of relief.
Yet, as I watched and listened to him speak to this largely French audience, I was struck by, not just what he said – most of which I readily admit, I agree with -- but how he treats his audiences, with respect for their collective and individual powers of comprehension. He prepares them for what he is about to tell them. Like a good professor, he lays the foundation for the lesson before delivering it. Because, there's history behind every problem and crisis the world faces today.
Compare that to the last guy who held this office. Never, in the entire 8-years George W. Bush was President did I ever get the sense he possessed anything even close to a holistic understanding of any of the complex problems he faced – especially those he created himself.
(Okay, let me take that back. He did once, but only once. That was immediately after the 9/11 attacks. He moved aggressively against the people who committed that crime, in Afghanistan. But then a shiny object caught his eye and diverted his attention – Iraq – and that was the end of Bush's singular moment of clarity and correctness.)
As for the French, I am certain they (correctly) viewed the last guy who sat in our Oval Office as the Chief Inspector Clouseau of US Presidents.
As Obama spoke to his French audience the camera swept the auditorium. Here were a couple of thousand French folk -- you know, the “even-Mikey-likes-it” breed of human. The French don't like much that isn't French. And when they do like something American it's usually something that makes us look ridiculous – like Jerry Lewis.
But the French faces in this audience told a refreshingly new tale. Even Mikey like it. Mikey REALLY liked it. Genuinely liked it. And it wasn't just because Obama was saying things they wanted to hear, because he wasn't. He told them, for example, that now that the US has genuinely rejected torture, and closed Gitmo, Europeans no longer have an “excuse” not to contribute the helping carry the load we were all left with by Bush in Afghanistan.
Obama took questions from the audience and, unlike Bush's “town hall meetings,” none of the questions or questioners were pre-screened. He joked with them, teased them, laughed at them and with them and at himself. I never wanted to have a beer with George W. Bush, but I'd love to have one with this guy. Anyone who's been out with me will tell you that I never shut the hell up. “Enough about you, let's talk about me,” is my idea of a nice get together. But if I could sit down with Barack Obama I'd shut the hell up and soak it in. He is a teacher as much as he is a leader.
One of the latest conservative raps against Obama is that “he can't speak without reading off a teleprompter.” Of course, like most of what the right spits out, this charge is not true either. And all right wingers would have to do to learn the truth is to watch the video of this town hall meeting. His answers were extemporaneous, coherent, complete,. He was eloquent, he was genuine. And the audience felt it and they soaked it up, like 8-year dry sponges.
When he was done the French ... (let me repeat that..) the French audience gave Obama a standing ovation. And as he worked the crowd on his way out they began in-sync clapping to – not the French national anthem, not the American national anthem -- but a rousing version of Stars and Stripes Forever, a Souza march played with real enthusiasm by a French military band. (Does this mean Freedom Fries are French Fries again?)
Look, I'm no kid at this. I'll be 64 this August. I've seen Presidents come and Presidents go since Truman. And, to one extent or the other, each one has disappointed me. (Like Bill Clinton did when he decided his sex drive was more important than his presidency.) So, who knows, Obama may yet prove to have similar mortal failings.
But as of for this morning I just put that worry aside. I let my cynicism shields down and just wallowed in it. For the first time in decades, I simply let it roll over me. I soaked in it. I gobbled it up with the same guilty pleasure I consume a second, and third slice banana cream pie (with graham cracker crust and buried in whipped cream, of course!)
I was thrilled, I was proud, I was hopeful. And, I had a lot of company. So was that French audience, an audience filled with young faces, many-color faces, listening at full attention, hanging on every word of an American President, glowing with hope, rather than fear or rage, for change.