The Obamas will soon move out of the White House, and I am saddened by that reality. It’s not just that the president will leave the post with much unfinished business, including an array of policy decisions that are likely to be changed or reversed when the new administration assumes power on Jan. 20; it’s that Barack and Michelle Obama, their two young daughters, and Michelle’s mom, who moved in on Day One from her Chicago home and helped care for the children, are emblematic of all that is good about family love and support.
The Obama family is, simply stated, an All-American family, and we all will miss the example they have set for familial love and comfort in this most public of careers.
Regular BIR readers know that I have been an outspoken and passionate advocate for President Obama during his two terms. Eight years ago, in the winter of 2008, the BIR was the first Irish American newspaper to endorse the candidacy of the then-junior US senator from Illinois, and looking back we have no regrets.
We first heard of him when he keynoted John Kerry’s convention in Boston in 2004, and we had the opportunity to meet him the next year when he received an honor from UMass Boston. Our own great US senator, the late Ted Kennedy, went public for him early in the primary campaign season, and when John Cullinane formed a group of Boston’s Irish to help raise awareness and support within our own ethnic enclave, I was honored to be invited to join him.
That summer, our group met briefly with then-VP candidate Joe Biden in a hotel function room in Copley Square, and we suggested ways to help the Obama/Biden ticket appeal to working class communities. Biden, who initially had said he would prefer to remain in the Senate, listened with great attention, and told us he had accepted on the condition that he would have a seat at the table with the president, and be involved in the day-to-day discussions of national policy.
About Obama, Joe Biden told us, “He’s the real deal.”
We accepted that description on faith, and as the Obama era nears its conclusion this month, we know that Biden had it right. America’s voters agreed with him, not just that first time in 2008, but again when the Obama-Biden team was reelected in 2012.
In that first Obama year, I was privileged to receive and accept an invitation to attend the annual St. Patrick’s White House reception. The attendees , numbering 500 or more, included an array of Irish politicians, among them the then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness , and a host of American pols, among then Tom Menino and then-Congressman Ed Markey. Cowen and Obama each made brief remarks, and the Irish leader presented our president with a bowl of native Irish shamrocks. The two men were joined on the stage by their wives, and at the conclusion, the president and Mrs. Obama stepped down and walked the line, meeting and greeting their guests.
In those most memorable of moments, I was able to shake the hand of Barack Obama, and told him I was there when he was honored at UMass. “Yeah, I remember that,” he said to me. Then Michelle Obama came by, and she shook my hand. All that I could think to say to her was, “Thank you for sharing your two beautiful young daughters with us.” She smiled at me, and said quietly, “Thank you, and please keep us in your prayers.”
I recorded those two brief encounters, and have kept them as cherished memories of a time in our great country when an All-American family – the Obamas – made me feel hopeful, proud, and thankful.