Thursday, January 5, 2017

Jottings : Slice of life -83 ( The Obamas- Presidential third term, and a heart felt adieu to a wonderful First family )

Jottings : Slice of life -83 ( The Obamas- Presidential third term, and a heart felt adieu to a wonderful First family )
On December 26th, in an interview with David AxelRod, President Obama made a very curious comment. He said “I'm 'confident' I could have won a third term as president”. His answer was a studied response to Donald trump’s overwhelming win in this election, and his defense that if he had campaigned, Americans would have probably re-elected him. A confident comment from a confident Man. I for one would have liked Obama to continue, but there is a curious history as to why he cannot and should not. In couple of weeks from now, the Obamas will welcome a new Presidential family into the white house, and they will quietly slip away into history books. In the following paragraphs, I touch upon historic reasons for restricting a president to only two terms, and will also take this opportunity to pay my heartfelt tribute to the one of the most beautiful and respected first families ever to reside in the white house in a long time. Please be prepared for a long read.
It was an unwritten rule in American governance that no President would stand for third term. The constitution itself was amended only in 1951, at the behest of Harry Truman restricting a president from not holding office for more than two terms. Until then, It is simply a matter of principle, moral and conscientious statesmanship more than anything else that kept others from aspiring for an additional term. Like many other glorious ideals in America, this precedence also goes back to its founding fathers, and more specifically to the magnificent personality and integrity of George Washington - the nations first President. The great man had steered America to victory in the revolution, helped form its charter, and served as President for two terms ( 1789 - 97), and retired from public life. In his inimitable words, he wrote back to Governor Trumbull, who wanted him back for a third term “ It is my ardent wishes to pass through the vale of life in retiremt, undisturbed in the remnant of the days I have to sojourn here.” Justifiably so!. None deserved his rest and leisure better than him. His mansion at Mt. Vernon was built only for this very purpose.
When we teach history to our kids, we give them the above mentioned reason. But hidden in the copious correspondence of Washington lies a stronger reason to decline an offer for a third term. I wish to present it here. Washington knew his history well enough to understand that the seat of presidency can very quickly become dynastic, and would breed the same set of political, social and ethical problems early Americans had sought freedom from. He believed politicians who wish to continue in office often had “ concealed ambition..” even though they may justify it in the name of public will and desire. He also understood how easy it is to explain away ones political decisions, however good or bad it is, as people’s will and establish rigid laws which can quickly become dictatorial and inflexible.
The other reason for him to decline the offer was Washington realized as early as 1799 that his new nation was already riddled with dissensions and political mud slinging in the name of democrats and republicans. In the same series of correspondence with Connecticut Governor Trumbull I quoted above, he explains further on why he was reluctant to accept his nomination again for Presidency. He writes : “The line between Parties are so clearly drawn that politicians would regard neither truth nor decency; attacking every character, without respect to persons – Public or Private, – who happen to differ from themselves in Politics.” . How true these words resonate after 250 years across America, and across democracies around the world. Again, In his farewell address in 1798, he sounded the clarion call , which all nations dabbling with democracy would do well to take heed. “If a country is led by a single man for long duration..” He said “ unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government…” further , he wrote “…Let a party set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of Liberty, a Democrat, or give it any other epithet that will suit their purpose, and it will command their votes in toto!”
I quoted good deal from Washington’s letters only to illustrate the thoughts at the very beginning of America’s nationhood, from its founding architect. Its worth remembering the civil war was still 75 years away, and even before that the political boundaries were clearly marked the familiar rhetoric of politcal class of how “things are not as good as it should be” is clearly visible. Anyway, Washington's decision not to run for third time was held as moral principle by all succeeding presidents, till Roosevelt (FDR) broke that impasse by becoming President 4 times in continuous succession. Between the war period and great depression years of 1933 and 1945, Roosevelt was unanimously elected. Those were unique circumstances in world history, and America needed stability at the top and was unwilling to gamble with anyone new during turbulent times. FDR luckily, was a colossus among Presidents. His nearly four terms as President year reestablished USA as the one most powerful and dependable countries in the world. In 1945, he died one year into his fourth term, and shortly thereafter constitution was amended to prevent any further extensions to an outgoing President.
So Barack Obama’s off hand comment to David on this third term was wishful at best, but certainly not lacking in little political ambition. Having said that, in another two weeks, the Obamas will leave the white house which they have so graciously occupied for last eight years. When Obama won in 2008, it was historic in many ways. But the most important quality he bought to the chair was charisma. Both Husband and wife were raw, full of dreams and aspirations. They were filled with pride to have to made it to the highest office in the country. A Nobel prize, followed by an autobiography telling the story of a man who lived the American dream and realized his hope; impassioned speeches on important issues peppered with audacious linguistic flourishes never seen after the days of JFK - all of them pointed to a Modern American era of hope, opportunity, liberty and financial revival. But unfortunately , he inherited a sinking economy and quickly his first term was occupied salvaging its health. However the momentum gathered during his four years carried him to his second term, and he used it to push his original agenda as much as possible. In a jiffy eight years have passed, and in that time it is fair to say America has reasonably recovered, and is now on its feet back again. I am not a political commentator, and wouldn't want to venture into the nitty gritty of Obama’s policies. But, suffice it to say that I am admirer of the man and his family for what they have done with themselves and the nation.
For me, the Obama’s will always remain as the epitome of manners, grace and style a presidential family should possess. Especially Michelle, who has endured herself to millions around the world. Over the years, one could sense the evolution of her vibrant public persona, and emergence of strong individual views on important matters of state and welfare. Her tenure as first lady has helped the colorful butterfly in her break free of its chrysalis. She now walks shoulder to shoulder with her husband. In her final commencement speech in Newyork during June last year, she addressed a diverse audience of youngsters on threshold of college education, the value of history, the need to dream and the courage to achieve. One could feel during that speech that she spoke as one who lived those ideals, and not merely paying lip service to them on a formal occasion. There is no doubt in my mind her presence in Barack’s life gave him the personal stability he required to face his enormous political challenges. The Obamas as President and first lady stand inseparable.
I wonder how it must be for them not to be in limelight. They have decided to live in Washington until their daughter finishes college, and then move out, if need be. Unlike George Washington's age, in whose time media was virtually absent, the Obamas may not be that lucky. They will be hounded, probed, and asked uncomfortable questions about their future ( its already started), but knowing them , they may not succumb to its allure or insinuations. They would like enjoy well deserved anonymity for few years, breathe freely, walk around hand in hand, shop at Macy’s, watch a movie build their Presidential library, attend the annual President’s club meeting to shake hands with all living Presidents and their spouses; watch their girls grow up, date, marry and hold their Grandchildren aloft; and finally, but most importantly watch their beloved America flower, prosper and lead.
It is with a heavy heart we will bid them goodbye in couple of weeks. They have done their best, and now they move on leaving the field to new players, newer rules and a future that hold tons of promise.
All the very best Mr President and First-lady.
God bless..
yours in mortality,
Bala



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