The President presidenting: “President Barack Obama meets with Amy Rosenbaum, Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients, Christina Goldfuss, Managing Director, Council on Environmental Quality, Senior Advisor Brian Deese and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in the Oval Office, June 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”
I don’t mean the day he was inaugurated. And I don’t mean the day he was elected. It might have been the day he clinched the election, although if you look at the polls going back into the summer, it looks pretty clear that he was well on his way to winning before either convention, but people were temporarily fooled by McCain’s post-convention bounce. But what I mean is that this was the day when Barack Obama became President in that it was to him the country began looking for the leadership and reassurance we always look for in our Presidents in moments of trial and crisis.
From The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis:
By Thursday, September 18, 2008, however, the big picture had grown so unstable that the small picture had become nearly incoherent…On Monday, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch, having announced $55.2 billion in losses on subprime backed CDOs, had sold itself to Bank of America. The U.S. stock market had fallen by more than it had since the first day of trading after the attack on the World Trade Center. On Tuesday the U.S. Federal Reserve announced that it had lent $85 billion to the insurance company AIG, to pay of the losses on the subprime credit default swaps AIG had sold to Wall Street banks---the biggest of which was the $13.9 billion AIG owed to Goldman Sachs. When you added in the $8.4 billion in cash AIG had already forked over to Goldman in collateral, you saw that Goldman had transferred more than $20 billion in subprime mortgage bond risk into the insurance company, which was in one way or another being covered by the U.S, taxpayer. That fact alone was enough to make everyone wonder at once how much of this stuff was out there, and who owned it.
The Fed and the Treasury were doing their best to calm investors, but on Wednesday no one was obviously calm. A money market fund called the Reserve Primary Fund announced that it had lost enough on short-term loans to Lehman Brothers that its investors were not likely to get all their money back, and froze redemptions. Money markets weren’t cash---they paid interest, and thus bore risk---but, until that moment, people thought of them as cash. You couldn’t even trust your own cash. All over the world corporations began to yank their money out of money market funds, and short-term interest rates spiked as they had never before spiked. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 449 points, to its lowest level in four years, and most of the market-moving news was coming not from the private sector but from government officials. At 6:50 on Thursday morning when [FrontPoint hedge fund manager Danny Moses arrived at work], he learned that the chief British financial regulator was considering banning short selling---an act that, among other things, would put the hedge fund industry out of business…
…At 10:30, an hour into trading, every financial stock went into a free fall, whether it deserved to or not…
It had been four days since Lehman Brothers had been allowed to fail, but the most powerful effects of the collapse were being felt right now. The stocks of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were tanking, and it was clear that nothing short of the U.S. government could save them. “It was the equivalent of the earthquake going off,” [Danny] said, “and then, much later, the tsunami arrives.” Danny’s trading life was man versus man, but this felt more like man versus nature: They synthetic CDO had become a synthetic natural disaster…
Bush had already absented himself from the job. And McCain panicked, pretty much letting everyone know who didn’t already he didn’t have what it takes to be President. I’d have to do some rummaging through the virtual library, but I think it was about then that McCain became a supporting player in his own campaign and Sarah Palin, God help us, took over the starring role. But Obama remained what had always been his most Presidential quality, steady. If anything, he got steadier. Calmer. People looked at him and they saw their President already at work. That was the day Mitch McConnell lost too. And Mitt Romney. There would be plenty of people who didn’t like seeing him as the President. Who wouldn’t vote for him no matter what. Who would never admit he’d actually won. Who still can’t admit it.
But from that day on there were always going to be a majority of Americans who would look at him and see---not our President---the President.
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation's original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.
He didn't know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn't imagine that.
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.
You can watch the whole eulogy here. Clear some time: It’s nearly 40 minutes.
Read the transcript.