By Rex Huppke
President Barack Obama is a good and decent man.
That’s what I thought, over and over, as I watched his farewell address Tuesday night in Chicago.
This is a good and decent man.
Among some, that’s a wildly unpopular opinion. Obama, they shout or tweet or comment, is a tyrant! A racist! Un-American! A disaster!
It’s all we’ve heard from one noisy portion of the populace since before day one of this man’s presidency, and I certainly don’t need to hear it again.
So on this day, in this moment, I don’t care what Obama’s critics say or what vitriol drips from troll tongues. I won’t read it in emails or tweets you send or so much as glance at it in comments that run under this column.
Obama is a good and decent man.
He has been, by no means, a perfect president. I don’t know that there ever has been one. Politicians in general are flawed, with egos that put them at ease with deception and deflection.
Obama made mistakes, large and small. He said some things I loved, and some things I hated. Much of his foreign policy was a mess. Obamacare was a grand idea poorly executed.
But what I saw over eight years was a man who stood upright in an unprecedented storm of furious resistance and nastiness — much of it driven by an unwillingness in certain corners to accept the legitimacy of a black president — and rarely lose composure.
What I saw was someone who fought for what he believes is right, who tried to push this country to be more inclusive. Someone who spoke intelligently and deeply on matters of race and on the idea of what it means to be an American.
What I saw was someone who comported himself, at least the part of him that the world could see, in a way I would be happy to see my children model.
There are people who opposed Obama’s policies and ideology who saw the same things I saw, people who will set partisanship aside and acknowledge that he is certainly a good man.
And there are some so blinded by hatred that they never saw any of this, and I feel bad for them, because I believe they missed out on something good. Even if, for some conservatives, it’s the only good they can find in Obama’s presidency.
I didn’t like or agree with much that President George W. Bush did as president. But I never thought he was a bad person. I bristled when people on the left cast him as some evil being.
I thought, and still think, that Bush was a good and decent man. I think the same about the Republicans who ran against Obama — John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Does that make me a right-winger and a traitor to all things liberal? Of course not. It just makes me a person who can dislike policies without needing to hate the policymakers.
In Obama’s farewell speech, he spoke of our corrosive political dialogue: “So coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen, not just as misguided, but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others.”
The man knows of what he speaks. He was constantly painted as less American than others. As a malevolent force, out to steal people’s guns or transform America into something un-American.
The man who stood on that stage in McCormick Place on Tuesday night loves this country, and loves it enough that he dedicated eight long years to leading it in a direction he thought was best.
The man I saw on that stage loves his family, and that love withstood gale force winds of hatred and disrespect.
This is not an appreciation of a president, it’s an appreciation of a person.
Disagree all you want. On this day, in this moment, I don’t care.
Thank you, President Obama.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Send comments to email@example.com.