On MLK Day 2009, the day before his first inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama published an essay in the Washington Times called “Unite with One Heart and One Mind,” the title of which comes from Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address in 1801. I was in D.C. for Obama’s 2009 inauguration and bought a copy of the paper, which I have saved. You can read the whole article here, but I wanted to share the images from the newspaper, which are included in the gallery.
This does not tie directly to Eye On Chi’s theme of Chicago journalism, but as MLK Day 2017 comes four days before the inauguration of this country’s most embarrassing president-elect in at least 96 years (shoutout to Warren G. Harding), I thought it appropriate to look back at this essay for three reasons:
- Everyone who showed up in D.C. to celebrate Obama’s first inauguration felt a personal connection to this presidency, but all Chicagoans I talked to (myself and my friends included) expressed a closer bond than most others. We definitely felt as if we were electing a Chicagoan president. The Washington Times essay — and the entire issue, really — felt to me like the world’s most important “local man makes good” story.
- Obama was very much our country’s first social media president and first youtube president, but he’s also got an old school streak, and penning an essay exclusively for a newspaper is an old school move. Beyond the content of the essay, its mere existence was a hopeful reminder of the power of the daily paper as both a communal source of information and a historical document fit for preservation.
- The essay is yet another reminder of the vast differences in communication styles between President Obama and President-elect (ouch) Donald Trump.
I do not mean to denigrate Twitter as a form of communication, but rather to note the patience and thought required in writing an essay that will be published by a newspaper or on a news website. There are outlines and drafts. There is editing. There are standards.
This is not to say that the Obama presidency met all standards of an ideal presidency, whatever that would be. His was far from perfect. Under Obama’s watch, we bombed seven countries, dropping more than 26,000 bombs in 2016 alone; Guantanamo Bay remained open as a detention center despite Obama signing an executive order on Day 2 of his presidency to close the facility; while Obama’s treatment of journalists arguably opened the door to greater abuses in the Trump era.
Obama disappointed many on the left with his approach to Wall Street, the Bush tax cuts, domestic surveillance, and post-9/11 military intervention. He disappointed many on the right by, you know, existing.
But one element of the Obama presidency I will always appreciate was the tone, manner, and purpose of his communication, with citizens, journalists, or politicians, in speeches or interviews, in staff meetings or casual conversation. He always conveyed a sense of thoughtfulness, setting the standard that the correct way to engage with others is to listen intently to their position, to deliver yours with passion while rooted in research and data, and then to find a compromise that satisfies as many people as possible.
His centrist nature frustrated many, especially those on the left who wanted him to push harder and farther for the progressive policies he seemed to embody. I’ll be interested to see how his legacy shakes out in the coming years.
For now, I tip my cap to a man who thought before he spoke, listened before he tried to convince, and used his writing and his speaking to encourage people to be their best.
Jack M Silverstein is the author of “Our President”, a citizen’s experience of the rise of President Barack Obama. Foreword by Scoop Jackson. Available now at Amazon.