Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Going Gaga for Obama

Now almost a month removed from Barack Obama’s historic election as the 44th President of the United States, I look back over the last 17-plus months of the campaign with fondness and memories.

Way back in the dog days of summer 2007, the then just “Senator” Obama made a stop in my hometown of Birmingham, Ala. Flattered by the thought of a Democratic nominee spending even a second in the reddest of red states, I immediately knew that this guy was for real—just to provide a little scope, this was back when Obama was polling at 20 percent on a good day and Hillary and Edwards were duking it out at the top (oh, how much has changed!).

I had the privilege of meeting Sen. Obama during his visit. Wide-eyed, I shook his hand. He then proceeded to give my older brother a fist-pound. This was long before his “terrorist fist jab” became all the rage.

I next saw Obama at his final stop before Super Tuesday in Boston, and then again at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. With each successive Obama-sighting, the crowds grew larger. The 80,000-person crowd that packed the bleachers at Invesco Field was a far cry from the small gathering in the Birmingham living room the summer before.

And finally I realized: what drew so many people out to see Obama was his ability to relate. For me, it was his nonchalant pound he gave my brother (I give fist-pounds to my brother!), and his difficulty balancing loyalty to the church while distancing himself from a controversial minister (the old minister of my hometown church was controversial, too!).

But I never felt more connected with Sen. Obama than when my grandfather, Richard Jones, or “Gaga” as he was called by his seven grandchildren, passed away from cancer the Saturday after the election at the age of 87.

As was widely discussed by the media the day before the election, Obama lost his grandmother to cancer before she could see her grandson be elected to the highest office in the land. But I took comfort in knowing that regardless of the outcome of the election, Obama’s grandmother was proud of him because that’s just how grandparents are.

And although I was unable to make it down to see Gaga in Florida before he passed away, I know that he was proud of me and all his grandchildren.

Being the eternal humorist that he was, Gaga joked on the Sunday before the election that, since he had cast an absentee ballot as soon as early voting began in Florida, when Obama was elected president he should create a new cabinet position for him as the best friend of Freddie Couples, Obama’s favorite golfer.

This election was an emotional one, on a variety of levels. It saw times of great joy as well as profound sadness. I’m sure many have a similar story to mine, but for the first time I’ve found a President (-Elect) that has a similar story to mine. And I think those pieces of shared narrative that he has with all of us is what will make him an effective President of the United States.

I know that Gaga is in a good place now, has made fast friends with Obama’s grandparents, and together they are looking down on us, happy with what we were able to achieve.
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