If you had told me eight years ago how much the person I was voting for would directly impact my life, I would have said you were crazy. I can remember quite clearly, walking with my wife to our polling place (an elementary school now closed), with our first child in tow.
I was filled with optimism. The campaign was not free from mud-slinging and dirty politics, but it did have moments filled with soaring rhetoric and real humanity that shone through. And when Obama had won, we had hope that here would be change, at the very least we had a first family that looked like no other that came before. We also had an economic crisis, and for us personally, a house that was going further and further underwater every month with no relief in sight.
Barack Obama’s presidency brought political fights and gridlock, but it also brought incredible change. Economic calamity eventually slowed, stabilized, and was later replaced with a long slog back to recovery. The economic recovery was uneven, left some out to be sure, but it was real. My wife and I cheered as the Affordable Care Act finally became law, and later took advantage of HARP II - a program that brought us welcome relief with monthly mortgage payment.
Later, a coworker told me about new program the White House were starting up - something they called the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. I applied, never thinking anything at all would come of it. Somehow I made it through and joined seventeen other fellows in DC. I was terrified. Clearly, these were people much smarter and more accomplished than me. I resolved to keep my head down, get work done, and hopefully make it through without anyone noticing. As the first round of PIFs (Presidential Innovation Fellows), we were incredibly naive and bright eyed. We had an unshakeable belief that our work would make it through the labyrinthine federal bureaucracy before our six month tenure was over. In some cases, our work made real impact. Vast amounts of open data were released, a pilot to improve how government procured services proved to be money-saving success, and partnerships were made with dedicated public servants that had been there all along. In my case, a public beta was as far as we could move the ball for our project - MyUSA. Yet, what we were able to do was make the case for the programs that would later follow - 18F and USDS, as well as fellows that would stay on and make an incredible impact at other federal agencies for years to come. Their work has made real lasting change, and that to me is the legacy of our six month jaunt.
In my current role as Creative Director at Ad Hoc, I’m still working on this stuff - improving parts of Healthcare.gov for millions of Americans, and helping to design Vets.gov - a site that is already helping thousands of Veterans get access to the services they so richly deserve.
As someone whose personal politics lean left, I certainly have concerns about what comes next. The next few months will be painful as many of President Obama’s executive orders will be undone, and perhaps the ACA itself. But what I can’t shake, what I don’t think can be removed, is the incredible precedent Barack Obama set for all of us. His unshakable optimism about who Americans are at their core - in spite of everything thrown at him - is awe inspiring. The unshakable belief that it is by we, not I, that real change is made, is something that I will never forget. I have been changed in ways I couldn’t have foreseen eight years ago. I’m hopeful the same is true for millions of other Americans that were personally changed by his presidency. In 2007, the hope I had was in actions, the changes I wanted to see made to our policies, to our laws and our standing in the world. Many of those things came to pass, while others did not. But the hope that will endure is how this President has changed me. Changed what I come to expect, and hope for in our future.
Precedents serve to inform future actions - to set a baseline by which we conduct ourselves when confronted with similar circumstances. The precedent Obama set cannot be undone by legal action, or by a tweet. Too much has changed, we have moved forward in too many ways as a nation, and too many people’s lives have been touched.
For me personally, it’s fitting that his presidency has been bookended by the birth of our two daughters. Our daughter Hope was born this past year. Her name is a nod to three things. One, to the motto of our home state of Rhode Island. Two, a biblical definition of hope that is personal to my wife and to me. And three, to President Obama’s most enduring theme. My prayer is that someday, I’ll be able to put words to Barack Obama’s legacy that she’ll understand, and that her generation will continue his work and move us forward once more.