Meeting Barack Obama
For the past few days, I have been personally answering the doorbell of our home in Quezon City, welcoming the mailman and other special delivery service representatives in anticipation of an invitation from the Palace for Monday night’s dinner in honor of President Barack Obama. I even ordered a special barong Tagalog from my favorite couturier for this auspicious occasion.
When I read that Regal matriarch Lily Monteverde had received her invitation, I decided to call up my friends in the Palace to ask what could have happened to mine. Perhaps it was hijacked along the way. Unfortunately my calls were not returned—a sure sign that one is no longer on Palace guest lists. In fact, the last time I met a sitting head of state was some 20 years ago, when Nelson Mandela of South Africa was in town for a visit hosted by President Fidel Ramos.
But no reason to fret. In October 2006, I met Barack Obama. He was then a junior senator from Illinois.
We were on our annual apostolic visit to check on our American grandchildren (essentially to remind them of their roots). Senator Obama was just launching his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after his best-selling 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father.” The highly publicized book tour started in Chicago and he was scheduled to make an appearance at a Barnes and Noble outlet in Skokie, close to my uncle’s place in Evanston, Illinois.
At that time, there was no talk of a possible run for the Democratic presidential nomination, although he was being mentioned as a possible running mate of Hillary Clinton. He was considered one of the brightest young stars of the party. Two years earlier in 2004, he delivered the all-important keynote address at the Democratic presidential convention in Boston that nominated John Kerry. (Incidentally, Kerry lost to George W. Bush. He now serves as Obama’s secretary of state.) Obama was also the lone African-American in the US Senate.
We decided to catch his appearance in Skokie. As early as 6 a.m., people were lining up just to get tickets that would allow them to go up to the senator and have his autograph on their copy of his book.
The guidelines issued by the bookstore read:
• Senator Obama will give a brief talk, followed by signing of the books.
• If you are getting a book to be signed, please take a number for your place in the signing line. (My number was 124.)
• Books must be purchased prior to getting in line.
• Senator Obama will sign a total of three books per customer.
• Senator Obama will sign “Dreams from my Father” only with the purchase of “The Audacity of Hope.”
When Obama arrived, he immediately proceeded to give a brief talk mainly to explain the origin of the title of his book. The title comes from a sermon delivered by the pastor of his church in Chicago, Jeremiah Wright, some 15 years ago. He used it in his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Basically, the “The Audacity of Hope” line upheld the idea that in spite of all the problems and difficulties confronting us in our daily lives or in the life of our nation, “we must continue to remain brav e and courageous, always daring to pursue new initiatives that can bring about changes for the better.”
An interesting passage from the book describes his courtesy call on Sen. Robert Byrd, considered the dean of the US Senate. Obama asked him for advice as a new member of the club. Byrd’s reply was: “Learn the rules. Not just the rules but the precedents as well…. these rules unlock the power of the Senate. They are the keys to the kingdom.” Byrd noted that “…senators often become fixated on the White House, not understanding that in the constitutional design, it was the Senate that was supreme, the heart and soul of the Republic.”
Obama would run for the presidency without completing his term in the Senate. How many of our legislators know the rules and the history of their respective offices?
Then my number was called (we had enough time to grab a bite), I went up to the senator and mentioned I was visiting from the Philippines. A broad smile broke out as he signed my copy, just as my daughter Bon took a picture of the moment. Little did we realize that we had just met the 44th president of the United States.
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Just to refresh our memories before the arrival of our distinguished visitor.
Barack Hussein Obama Jr. was born on Aug. 4, 1961, at the Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu. On the birth certificate (that has been the subject of much controversy even after his election as president), his mother’s race is listed as “Caucasian” and the father’s as “African.”
Barack—Swahili for “one who is blessed by God”—was two years old when his father left the family to return to Kenya. Barack’s mother remarried an Indonesian when he was six, and he spent four years in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Only once in his life was he visited by his biological father. This explains his deep attachment to his mother, whom he describes as “the single constant in my life… I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known and that what is best in me, I owe to her.”
After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in political science, Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he finished magna cum laude. While at Harvard, he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.
Obama’s political career started in 1996 when he was elected to the Illinois state senate. In 2000, he lost his bid for a congressional seat, but in 2004, he was overwhelmingly elected to the US Senate to become only the third African-American to sit in this body since the Reconstruction Period after the US Civil War.
Obama is on his second term as president, having defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 US elections.
By the time he retires in 2016 at age 55, he will have retired younger than Philippine AFP chiefs of staff who retire at age 56.
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