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Amazing Grace

Eight years ago, toward the end of the 2008 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama asked me, “Klein, are you going to write a book like Primary Colors about us?” referring to my satirical novel about the 1992 campaign. I spluttered a bit; the thought had never occurred to me. Her husband started to laugh. “Klein can’t write a book like that about us,” he said. “We’re too boring.”

That was nonsense, of course. The first African-American President of the United States was never going to be boring. But Obama was right too. There would be little melodrama and absolutely no hint of scandal during his time in office. The conservative fever swamps would be no less pustulent than they were during the Clinton presidency–indeed, the level of race-based hatemongering was frightening–but somehow the Obamas never let it get to them. They radiated a sense of militant normality, a mother-knows-best family on the world’s brightest stage. The First Lady let the White House staff know that Sasha and Malia would make their own beds. The President went up to the residence for family dinner most nights. The First Lady planted a vegetable garden. She gave her husband grief when he got too full of himself.

When the President received the Nobel Peace Prize, he was asked to sign his name and leave a brief message in the same book that previous recipients, like Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr., had signed. Obama sat before the book and, in his precise, architectural left-handed script, began to write and write … and write. Finally, Michelle intervened: “Honey, are you writing a book?”

Their physical, emotional and intellectual grace was daunting. They never lost their cool in public. He controlled a supersharp sense of irony; he was never harsh. He made plenty of mistakes, as all Presidents do. He declared a “red line” in Syria and did nothing when it was crossed. He did not pretend to like the social ceremonies of politics; he despised flattery. I once asked a top aide why the President didn’t invite his opponents over to the White House for a drink or a movie more often and was told, “He believes they’d see right through it.” True enough, but there isn’t a soul in Washington who isn’t thrilled by an invitation to the White House.

The impact of the Obamas on American culture was subtle but substantial. In the Klein household these days, Dad is reading a book (Sapiens, by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari) that the President included in his list of 10 essential books, while the kids are watching the First Lady’s epic Carpool Karaoke and the whole family dances together to the President’s daytime playlist. The Obamas demonstrated that you can get down without losing your dignity. Their tastes were an eclectic combination of high and low: her sophisticated and never-errant fashion sense; his unabashed love of ESPN and late-adopted passion for golf.

He will be remembered for his eulogies, the terrible skein of laments over the bodies of American citizens murdered. He could convey a cathartic sadness, and the potential for uplift, in the face of tragedy. His most perfect moment came at the funeral of the Charleston, S.C., churchgoers who had been killed by a sick white man. The families of the dead had already forgiven the shooter–a stupendous act, but not uncommon in the black church and the African-American experience. How to respond to that? Words couldn’t cover it … so he sang “Amazing Grace,” a moment of bravado, humility and passion entwined.

Boring? Not for a moment. Thank you, Mr. President and First Lady, for leading us so elegantly.




Trump on Putin's criticism of Hillary Clinton and Democrats: 'So true!'

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his agreement with Vladimir Putin on Friday evening, after the Russian president said top Democrats were humiliating themselves by blaming their election loss on alleged Russian hacking. "Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems: 'In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity.' So true!" Trump tweeted.

Putin had criticized Clinton and the Democrats at a press conference on Friday, claiming that the allegations of Russian interference during the election was an "affront to their own dignity."

"They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame," Putin said. "It is important to know how to lose gracefully."

It wasn't the first time on Friday that Trump gushed over remarks made by Putin. Earlier, Trump released a statement saying he received a "very nice letter" from the Russian president, adding that Putin's "thoughts are so correct."

The letter, dated Dec. 15, offered Putin's "warmest Christmas and New Year greetings" and stressed the importance of US-Russia relations in "ensuring stability and security of the modern world."

Putin continued: "I hope that after you assume the position of the president of the United States of America we will be able — by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner — to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring out level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level."




A Requiem For Susie Jackson, The Black Woman Shot 11 Times By Dylann Roof

Walter Jackson holds a photo of his mother, Susie, one of the nine people killed in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

We should never forget Miss Susie, or any of our persevering Church Mothers.

Miss Susie,

You were 87 years old when Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot you 11 times. Your aged body took more bullets than any of the other eight churchgoers whose lives were also cut short by an evil white supremacist on June 17, 2015.  

That one piece of information reminded me of the violence historically inflicted upon black women by white men and the way we tend to bear so much pain, sometimes just because we’re black women at Bible study on the wrong night.

I don’t know if you heard him say this, but Roof justified his misdeeds by telling your nephew, “You are raping our women and taking over the world.” He upheld white women’s bodies as superior to justify your slaughter.

Later Roof would laugh as he confessed to shooting you and the others. “Somebody had to do it,” Roof told police officers, adding that “black people are killing white people every day .... What I did is so minuscule compared to what they do to white people every day.” 

“Our people are superior,” he said. “That’s just the fact.”

Unlike many who lynched black people during Jim Crow, Roof refused to look at crime scene photos of you during his trial. He couldn’t even stomach what he had done to you and your loved ones.

Miss Susie, it’s as though Jim Crow found a way to catch up to you even though your black first lady strolls the halls of a home built by her ancestors but not meant for their descendants.

I didn’t know you, but you remind me of my great-grandmother. She, like you, was a God-fearing, church-loving woman, and she couldn’t really say “no” to anything herself. Your fluffy gray curls were similar to hers, and her skin was a beautiful dark brown-red like yours. My great-grandmother and you were both Church Mothers, older women who have demonstrated their strong faith and now help guide the rest of the congregation down the right path.

I imagine you remind a lot of black people of their grandmothers, these larger-than-life women who take on everyone’s pain and somehow manage to bring us so much joy.

That’s one reason why it hurt so damn bad when you were listed as a victim in the church massacre. When it was revealed that that white supremacist pumped 11 shots into you, I remembered how I felt on June 17, 2015. I relived that anger, that pain and that feeling of being so small in the face of such audacious hatred.

It’s a feeling I’ll never forget, just like I’ll never forget you, Miss Susie ― or any of the black women like I imagine you were.


A black kid still reeling from the fact that you could have been my grandmother.





Majority Want Monday’s Electoral College Vote Postponed In Wake Of Russia Scandal: New Poll

A majority of American voters favor delaying the December 19th Electoral College vote until electors can be fully briefed on Russian interference in the election, according to a new poll conducted by YouGov.

The survey, sponsored by the progressive advocacy group Avaaz, found 52 percent of people supportive of stalling the vote, set to take place Monday.

A surprisingly high number of people ― 46 percent ― were also willing to support so-called “faithless electors,” the name given members of the Electoral College who spurn the vote of their home state and vote for a different candidate instead.

Trump opponents have been pressuring electors to break with their state’s voters, and a law firm has even offered pro bono, confidential legal advice to any elector curious about his or her options. Avaaz has collected thousands of signatures on a petition calling for the vote to be delayed.

Donald Trump won a fairly wide Electoral College victory on Election Day, but Hillary Clinton is on pace to beat him in the popular vote by some three million. In a sign of how divided the country is, however, more than 1 in 4 Republicans believe that Trump in fact bested Clinton in the popular vote. That belief may stem from a false claim Trump himself made on Twitter, when he said that he would have won the popular vote had millions of people not voted illegally. That came after a separate claim from Trump, that he could have won the popular vote if he wanted to, by campaigning in highly populated states like California and New York.

Some states mandate that electors vote the way their state instructs, but the the 10th Circuit Court ruled late on Friday that such laws are unconstitutional. The court covers the region of Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Only one elector has publicly said he will be breaking from Trump.




First Lady to Oprah: ‘Now We’re Feeling What Not Having Hope Feels Like’

"Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was a nice slogan to get votes. What else do you have, if you don't have hope?" - Michelle Obama on her husband's legacy of hope

First Lady Michelle Obama gave her final one-on-one interview to Oprah Winfrey at the White House on Wednesday.

In a first look at the interview that aired on “CBS This Morning” Friday, Obama reflected on her husband’s legacy of hope.

Winfrey asked Obama if she thought her husband’s administration achieved his campaign promise of delivering hope.

“Yes, I do, because we feel the difference now. See, now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like,” Obama said. “Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept.

“Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was a nice slogan to get votes. What else do you have, if you don’t have hope?” Obama asked. “What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?”

As CBS notes, during her time in Washington, the First Lady has advocated for several causes including healthy families and improved education for girls around the world.

“I couldn’t have done anything that I’ve done without Michelle,” President Obama said of his wife, who he calls his rock, in 2011.




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