Just a few days ago, on one of many Debate Days, I saw that photograph of you and your daughter, Sasha, in the bumper cars at the Iowa State Fair. You are both so happy, sharing the simple joys of the lurch and heave and jolt. Looking at the photo, I imagine you to be running in a large circle around a knot of cars, preparing to swoop down onto an unsuspecting driver. You know the move I mean.
Looking at the photo, the thought came to me unbidden: Please don’t run. It was both an expression of hope for you, as a man, and also for our country.
I want, as a fellow human being and fellow father, to see you stay just the way you are: able to experience the joy of parenthood and the simple thrill of the state fair midway.
As a fellow citizen of the greatest nation on the globe, I want you just as you are, right now. Though it is long past time that there be an African American in the White House, you yourself are too important to lose to the Presidency.
Your candidacy has galvanized many and given them hope. You speak a language that has long been out of favor among the professionals in public life. How can you let down the people who look so longingly toward you? For whom your very existence as a viable candidate gives them hope that, maybe, something can change?
But, how can you not let these same people down? I fear you won’t be able to keep up your humanity, stuck there in the West Wing. It seems to suck the soul out of those who work there for any length of time. I think of how old Jimmy Carter seemed as he left, of how tired President Bush seemed, of how tired President Bush now seems. Your approach to public life takes energy — energy to work against the status quo. Day in, day out, I worry the apparatus of the Oval Office will grind you down.
From your seat in the United States Senate, you have the clout to be heard and the safety that gives you room to maneuver. You do not have to calculate every statement against a global backdrop of ill will. You are free to speak truths that a president might not be able to say, but that must be said. You do not have to carry on your shoulders the burden of what our erstwhile allies and friends have begun to think of us, the burden of repairing broken relationships and strained friendships.
Were I a Democrat, you might say I was in the pocket of some other candidate angling for the nomination that will come months too soon. Were I a Republican, you might say I was trying to stall the candidacy of one of the freshest figures to come along in a long while. But that’s all just static. I do not know whether you are the most viable candidate, I do not know whether you really have a snowball’s chance, I do not know whether others, right or left, would do a better job. None of that is my point.
My point is this. Senator Obama, you’ve said that people seem to project their hopes onto you. That’s your burden to bear, no matter what. My hope for you is that you can remain the man you are now, the man who inspires a new hope.
Maybe it seems unfair to say such things openly. The time to make such a statement is long past. The die is cast.
But it was that photo, Senator, that moved me to write. That smile, on you and on Sasha. I want to see it again.
Thank you for your service, now and in the future.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty, by way of Andrew Sullivan