Amazing Grace

News Flash: Not everyone likes President Obama. I voted for him, but he’s a politician in a time of pretty significant partisan divide so it’s a given that half of the country isn’t going to much care for him. Same would go for a Republican president. That’s probably not true only now. Outside of George Washington and a couple of wartime leaders (and then only in wartime) presidents are going to be divisive figures. Welcome to democracy and the two-party system.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where it’s not enough to simply disagree with a president’s politics, to oppose his policies and to seek his defeat in elections. Now, it seems, we must hate him. Or, if we don’t hate him, we must oppose him in all ways and in all things and never once even think about saying a positive thing about him, even if it’s not an overtly political matter.

I did not support George W. Bush. I voted against him twice and feel that he was, in many ways, a disaster as a president. I didn’t even have much of a change of heart about him following 9/11 when his approval numbers skyrocketed. I was worried about the militaristic rhetoric and the almost immediate grab for power and I knew that current events would not stop an agenda with which I disagreed. I turned out to be right about that.

But before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series – barely a month after 9/11 – George Bush came to Yankee Stadium and tossed a perfect first pitch from the pitchers mound:

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It was amazing. It was cool. It didn’t matter what I thought of his politics at the time. It didn’t matter if, even subtly, there was a political purpose for his being there. The leader of our nation, which I deeply love even when I disagree with its president, was in a place that was special and important to me, doing something which made my country feel better about things in a dark time. My appreciating Bush’s pitch and getting chills while watching it didn’t make me a traitor to liberal causes and wasn’t somehow intellectually inconsistent with anything else I thought or believed. It was a wonderful moment and my appreciation for it was genuine. It remains so, in spite of everything that came after it.

Today President Obama gave the eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina. Pinckney, as you know, was one of the nine gunned down by Dylann Roof last week. 

Obama talked frankly about race, guns and the Confederate Flag. All of which are political topics, for better or for worse. But he also said “we are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith.” And he likewise remembered the other eight who “were living by faith when they died.” At the end of his eulogy, this happened:

Chuckles at first, as many on hand likely couldn’t believe that a sitting President of the United States was going to break into “Amazing Grace” in front of all of them and a national television audience. But he did. And he sang it all. With passion and feeling that the seemingly robotic Obama often lacks. And at the end he named the victims of the massacre one by one, again, with passion, in the hopes that their deaths would not be forgotten and would not be in vain.

I’m not a Christian. I don’t believe in God. Even though I’m an Obama guy, I don’t even agree with all of his policies. But I was floored at this. And I was moved. I don’t know how you could be an American and not be moved at this moment. A moment which was every bit as wonderful as that moment George Bush threw out that first pitch.

But I know many aren’t. I’ve talked to some people on Twitter today who immediately and reflexively found some way to criticize this moment. To claim it was contrived or political or hypocritical. Of course at this point a president could announce that he personally cured cancer and a great chunk of his political foes would find fault with it, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Why can’t we drop the politics once in a great while and appreciate these kinds of moments? Why can’t we appreciate it when something wonderful happens, even if it features a politician of another party or a person with whom we otherwise disagree? Are we worried that our friends might, for a moment, think we’re traitors? Do we worry that we will give our political foe some sort of power if we acknowledge that here, in this moment, what he or she did was good and worthy?

I’m paraphrasing, but someone I know told me on Twitter a little while ago, “why should I drop my politics? Obama won’t drop his.” My response, which I did not give to him but which I can’t get out of my head now: He doesn’t have to. He’s a politician. But maybe you can, because you’re not. You’re a human being with feelings beside hatred of your adversaries and, once in a while, it’s worth appreciating the wonderful things in life. 

Even if they come from a president.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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