My Date With Obama
The first time I met Barack Obama I was on a blind date. It was a June 3, 2005, fundraising event for the new senator from Illinois at the home of supporters in midtown Manhattan, and I was my date's guest. High above Central Park South, the man who riveted the nation with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston, riveted anew a packed room of young, politically minded New Yorkers. I was impressed by his confidence when speaking about his vision for the country and his cool and comfortable demeanor.
Our next encounter was in Hollywood on Aug. 9, 2007. I was a panelist in the presidential candidates' forum on gay and lesbian issues for the Logo television cable channel. (Here's part one and part two.) Obama was the first up and spoke with such ease about gay concerns. He was clear in his opposition to same-sex marriage, as he was in his support for ensuring that gay couples are conferred the same rights as straight married couples. I was impressed by his confidence when speaking about gay and lesbian issues. And I was impressed with his response to my challenge to deal with homophobia in the black community. Obama correctly pointed out that he talked about gay issues before black audiences. "I just don't talk about these issues when it's convenient," he said in that clipped and precise manner we've come to know.
And then there was yesterday. What struck me after Obama's hour-long meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters was that the only thing that had changed about him -- after a hard-fought campaign -- was his title.
As I wrote to a friend in an e-mail later in the afternoon, "the thing i found most amazing is that he hasn't so [much as] grown into the job as much as the job is the one that suits him. the supremely confident and self-assured person i first met in 200 and again in 2007 is the same one I just sat across from. the only difference now: he will be President of the United States." (Yeah, I'm one of those folks who types in lowercase in emails, but only if we're close. Apologies.)
Friends have wanted to know what it was like for me to sit across from, not just an incoming president, but the first black president. How did it make me feel? Was I emotional? The answer is no. My emotions made their debut on Election Night. But I will admit to quiet pride. A black man a mere six years older than me, and less than five feet away from me, was days away from becoming the leader of the free world. Obama will inherit a world of hurt from President George W. Bush. And I look forward to following, commenting on and critiquing how Obama deals with the enormous challenges he will face over the next four years.
In recent days, I've heard quite a few people say they still can't believe Obama won the election. Not in a sneering, incredulous manner. Rather, in that can-you-believe-it excitement with which folks are talking about pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III and the miracle of U.S. Airways Flight 1549. Some say Obama's ascendancy to the presidency won't be real to them until Obama puts his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office on Jan. 20. But it came home for me at the end of our Thursday meeting when, as Obama walked out of the ground-floor conference room, Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham extended his hand and said, "Thank you, Mr. President."
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