Jan 9, 201708:05 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Obama at His Best
To all of you who do not like Barack Obama here’s a request: chill, just this one time. Anyway, in a few days he will be out of office.
While some people may not have approved of his policies and found him too liberal, it should at least be conceded that he was a decent, articulate and intelligent man. And, as far as we know, his administration was scandal free – at least as far as it pertained to him.
His time in office still awaits the level-headed analysis of history, but as he leaves the White House I would like to mention one of my favorite Obama moments. It happened May 2, 2011, a Sunday night in which the nation was alerted to turn to its televisions. At that moment, they saw the President walk up to a podium to deliver these words:
Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
At that moment, a country, so often divided in many ways, erupted in a nationwide cheer. Granted, celebrating the news of someone being killed by the government could be awkward, but this was different, as Obama continued:
It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory -- hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.
And then he added this moving paragraph:
And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.
From there the President detailed the planning behind the military mission. As triumphant as his message was it could have been soured by a casualty count, but here too the news was good:
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.
“No Americans were harmed.” To realize that the United States had the capacity to send elite soldiers into a compound in a foreign country, find the target and then escape was stirring.
(Even the one set back – the crashed helicopter – might have been, in the long run, a positive providing proof that the raid took place. Without it, conspiracy theorists of the future would have denied that the action ever happened.)
As people across the nation prepared to rush to the streets to celebrate, including the large crowds that gathered in front of the White House, the President closed with these thoughtful remarks:
The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
That night, we saw the impact that the raid had on the national mood. What we will never know is the impact it had on aspiring terrorists. There have been many radical activities since that night, including the rise of Isis, but I suspect that many potential terrorists have given second thought to facing such muscle. We might also wonder what impact a speech of that magnitude, delivered by a black man with a Muslim name, might have on people of various races and religions worldwide. Might they be more inclined to have hope for themselves and to believe in the United States and the potential power of democracy?
For Obama it was a good night – though in public life the victory laps are short and the detractors are waiting at the finish line. For that moment though the echoes from off the White House walls were all cheers.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.