Yes, We Did
I wrote this story in 2008 before Obama had won the election — before he’d even picked a running mate, in fact. (Hence the reference to VP Booker.) And obviously well before the killing of bin Laden. I was a big fan of Obama in those early days, but even so it was hard to deny the high pedestal on which many supporters placed him. This story is a play on that pedestal, imagining a year into Obama’s presidency. So it’s definitely a bit dated, but I wanted to preserve it here for posterity. (Bonus points if you can guess the superhero reference.)
“My fellow Americans, today I sit before you a humbled man.”
Who knew that 44, only 48, could look so old? President Obama was gaunt, almost stricken-looking. His cheekbones strained against the ever-thinning skin of his face and stripes of gray slithered across his temples.
“I promised you change, I swore to deliver you hope. I have not kept my promises; I have not delivered what I owe you.”
The minute hand of the clock had yet to budge, and already America’s collective jaw was on the floor. Not since Lyndon Johnson’s unexpected withdrawal from the ’68 election had a presidential speech truly caught the country off guard. I was merely a boy, but I knew from my parents’ faces that I was living through a momentous event then, just like now.
“I am disappointed in myself, and I accept, understand, and agree with all criticism that has flowed steadily my way even since before my nomination as the Democratic Party’s nominee.”
Even now, as I write this in retrospect, I find myself pausing repeatedly and lingering surprise. I credit the President with saving my daughter’s life. My world was in shambles. I had lost my job unexpectedly; the [redacted] plant in which I worked had folded up and laid everyone off. We found out about it through a press release… that had only been passed along to the New York media some [redacted] miles away… two days after we’d shown up for work one day to find the doors locked and the lights off.
The whole enterprise had evaporated. And following it into the sky were our benefits and pensions.
“I have absolutely no excuses with which to defend myself, nor would I try to do so given the failure of my service to you thus far.”
When he passed through my town during the primary season, I was in jail. DUI. Again. The week prior it was a fight. Both events occurring for the same reasons, under similar circumstances. There was nothing here. Nobody even had the money to leave. Even had I not been in jail, I would not have been watching some negro fella tell me how he was going to magically get me a job and health insurance for my sick daughter.
“I can only ask for your forgiveness, and for it to be born out of mercy, not out of explanation, as there is none. At least, no explanation that is reasonable under the circumstances.”
But he did it. My whole town got more than a shot in the arm — it got a kick in the pants. And my daughter was able to get that [redacted] transplant she’d needed. I regretted my DUI, but even more than that I regretted letting myself sink so far that I didn’t get to see the son of future history grace my town.
“Given these harsh but completely true failures…”
Anyway, enough about me. At about this point in President Obama’s press conference, there was not a living American soul detached from our commander-in-chief’s tired gaze. Nobody was in the bathroom; bladders were full but had to wait. No one had risen for snacks, or if they had they were frozen in mid-gait.
The country’s ever-more-withered old-guard media already had their best men and women composing the juicy story that would dominate many upcoming news cycles: President Barack Obama resigns!
Just as many were writing retractions, as the headline was on the world wide web before the ellipses had completed its breath of confirmation. Still more were already weaving the follow-up story. The fingers of a thousand editors poised over two thousand buttons.
“…I have decided to take this opportunity to announce a highly classified program — at least, up until this point it was — intended to accomplish the wholesale arrest, indictment, prosecution, and punishment of previously immune major criminals within our borders.”
More than two million previously raised eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“One of my failures as your president was being seduced by the powers that my predecessor had accumulated over eight years of building a political arsenal. Could I pocket a dagger as my weapon of choice when a battle axe leaned against my hip from the very day of my swearing in? I could not. I had not the fortitude for regression.”
His language was always very good, but like many a well-spoken man sometimes people glazed over for lack of understanding.
“I handled some of these political weapons, trained with them, experimented. I did discard some: those that could not be wielded to benefit you, my countrymen. Others I found were of questionable origin but luminous destination. In the right hands, of course.”
Like even the best showman, he was having an occasion of losing the audience. We had no idea what he was talking about. Fortunately…
“Of especially surprising power was the former president’s warrantless wiretapping program.”
More than two million furrowed brows flattened to receive the slap of two million plus palms. Was this really going where we thought?
“With information and analysis being distributed and enacted strictly on a need-to-know basis, myself and a surprisingly small crowd of others have been monitoring a very large number of our fellow Americans. We have pushed the boundary no further than the line left by President Bush, except in the area of prolificacy.”
Allow me to spare you a few minutes of the speech. What he meant is that they monitored more — way more — people than the previous man in the White House.
“White-collar criminals, cores of corporate sleaze, even your own public servants — virtually no class was left immune. Members of my own political party were also included in this monitoring. Friends of mine, and family.”
Then the kicker.
“Most members of the previous administration have already been incarcerated a fortnight prior. And those only under the more conservative use of these sweeping executive powers used by the characters themselves: they were only monitored for their interactions with players in the game of terrorism. Oil chess and the like. If there is one point that is debated as regards my speech this evening, I do sincerely hope that nobody is surprised on at least that point.”
It continued; President Obama looking somehow defeated in the face of his accomplishments.
“You may also recall a month long ‘vacation’ in November 2009, for which I received much criticism. Inaccessible to the media, unclear on my location, my disappearance was unprecedented as the leader of the greatest nation on Earth. Even Vice President Booker, governing as he did in my stead, was overheard to mutter that the whole mysterious situation was ‘absurd.’ I have no quarrel with him on this point as there is no shield against bald truth. To he and everyone else I must make special note to apologize for the absence.”
He sighed deeply.
“Had I been able to disclose my plans without also designating all onlookers as Schrödinger’s theoretical experimenter and I the cat in the box, and therefore destroying my experiment, I would have. I ached over my inability to be honest with you for that month, but as the experiment is now over without the need for outside observation, I can now reveal to you the results.”
Dramatic pause. Mine, not his. He’d just kept right on talking, in fact — as if remarking sadly on the weather.
“Osama bin Laden is dead. Roughly two days before my return, he was killed in the Country of the Hills in Pakistan. I personally tracked him with no weapons on my person, less than 20 people having been aware of the mission, less than five aware that it was I at the center of it. As the trail grew warmer, I found myself captured. Having educated myself on various Arabian dialects and the Indo-Iranian languages of the region, I feigned ignorance and so gained great knowledge. The terrorists spoke openly and particularly, and it was often remarked by them all that the haggard man they had captured did, in fact, resemble myself. But the notion was ridiculous and so therefore was the debate, until their leader soon joined them.
“His searching gaze over my dirty face gave them all pause. I never heard him speak, but as he left the room I knew he soon would be, though not to me. I had precious little time. I must spare you the details — I pray you will forgive me for this. Please just rest assured that it was the man himself, and that it was I, your shamed leader, who delivered the killing blow.”
At this point, I need not record for future historians all the various flavors, colors, scents, and echoes of shock. The speech has been well dissected in the years since, and will continue to be debated for a long time to come. Was his humility fake? Were there lies; was it all just acting? How much or how little were others involved in assisting in these accomplishments? Was President Obama really such a prominent mind and an involved hand in the execution of these events? Or was he just a face?
His speech continued well beyond that which I mentioned here, of course. Past the blast of the flabbergasting wiretap sting and bin Laden ding, there were balanced stacks of successes and failures. It was not all reality worthy of fantasy, for sure. Some portions of his speech were brief ruminations on talking points we all knew well already: semi-socialized healthcare; assertively improved race and class relations, despite stubborn resistance still being experienced from elder names of the black community; the never-ending but wholly unsubstantiated claim that he is secretly a Muslim; a shrinking, however slowly, national debt; and of course the constant fears of what had become a practically weekly attempt on his life.
President Obama’s eyes slid shut. He sucked in a deep, rattling breath and held it. The air released slowly between lips that had become ever more chapped during his marathon 3-hour address. Hearts and bladders both were fit to burst. Stomachs growled and minds reeled. Just look at all he’s done, so many thought. And look at his misery at having not done more still. There could surely be no further surprises for him to spring on us, and yet still we waited for something more.
At the edge of the screen, just barely within view of the camera, a bright red phone began to ring and glow. President Obama opened his eyes and lowered his gaze toward his desk. He blinked hard and stood, walking with heavy but determined feet towards the phone. His hand found the receiver, the receiver found his ear… silence for everyone at home as he listened. Our greatest President nodded solemnly and placed the handset back down.
Obama bent tentatively down to a drawer on his side of the Resolute desk. He pulled forth a magnificent blue cape, gazed at it, and spun it around his back to clasp on his mighty shoulders. And that’s when we all remembered: Barack Obama was, in fact, the Sentry. A hero with the power of a thousand exploding suns. The cape in place, our President straightened his tie and bowed his head at the camera.
“Goodnight, and God Bless America.”
With a blur and a bang, he flew out the window of the Oval Office and split the sky in two, aiming to stop the speedily approaching fire meteor from destroying Earth. Everyone took a deep breath. We each smiled softly, nodded, and gazed at one another knowingly. How much faith we’d had, and how safe we now were as a result. Thank you, Golden Guardian of Good. Thank you.