Why I still love Obama – Curtis Sittenfeld

Large swathes of the US may have turned against the president at the midterm polls, but for author Curtis Sittenfeld the thrill has not worn off.

Two years after voting for Barack Obama, I’m just as exhilarated as Oprah Winfrey was in Grant Park on 4 November 2008. You might say, to borrow the accusation frequently levelled at the media then, that I’ve remained in the tank for him. The only problem is I seem to be in the tank by myself. I’m surprised that so many people have turned against the president. Obviously, if you’ve lost your job, life is tough, but did voters really believe the country was going to quickly and dramatically reverse course once he was elected?

So Obama is an imperfect president – who wouldn’t be? During the almost two years he has been in office, I don’t think he’s made any major missteps: the economic stimulus package might not have been perfect, but it prevented something bad from being even worse. Healthcare reform will offer better coverage – or coverage, period – to millions of Americans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing billions of dollars to improve education and infrastructure. And, hell, I have no idea what Obama could have done differently with the oil spill, with the possible exception of not succumbing to political pressure by making Sasha go swimming with him off the coast of Florida.

How quickly we forget! After an excruciating eight years of George Bush, the thrill still hasn’t worn off of once again having an intellectually nimble president, not to mention one who doesn’t pride himself on going with his gut when it comes to foreign policy. Whenever I watched Bush speak extemporaneously, I’d feel alternately embarrassed by and for him. And whenever I interacted with someone from another country, I’d feel compelled to mention that I hadn’t voted for Bush. But when I see Obama on television, I’m unfailingly struck by his intelligence and charisma, by his easygoing humour, by the magnificence of his megawatt smile.

At this point, I love Obama so much that I recently thought if it were 1961, I’d probably display a bust of him in my living room. Then I realised I’m already displaying the 2010 equivalent: on my living room wall, I have a framed version of that famous November 2008 New Yorker cover of the O moon over the Lincoln Memorial. Meanwhile, on my desk, I keep a photo I first saw on the Huffington Post in May 2009 of Obama in the Oval Office, bending over so a little African-American boy could rub his head. The boy, it turns out, was the child of a White House staffer, and the reason Obama was bending was, according to the caption in the White House’s Flickr account, “The youngster wanted to see if the President’s haircut felt like his own.”

I don’t care if it’s good PR – the picture still practically brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me of the sense of excitement and possibility I felt in November 2008, as if in electing Obama, we Americans were acting as our best, smartest, least racist selves, as if there really was change we could believe in. And, OK, so it’s been a long two years since then, and for a lot of people it’s been an undeniably hard two years. But I’m just not convinced that’s Obama’s fault.

An extended version of this article was published on Slate © Slate/New York Times

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