This post isn’t going to be about politics. It’s not going to be about Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump or anyone else vying for the presidency. It’s not going to be about Barack Obama’s political choices, some of which I’ve taken issue with. This isn’t going to be about anyone’s politics. This post is going to be about my dread at the first First Family I’ve cared about disappearing into relative political obscurity. I said this wouldn’t be a post about politics (and it’s not really), but I’ll say this: this election season has been the longest, and the worst, and has done nothing to excite me about who will replace the Obamas in the White House. Today was Super Tuesday, the Missouri polls were open until roughly four hours ago, and I didn’t vote. And somehow, it all comes down to this: the backdrop on my phone.
The Obamas emerged at a formative time in my life. I was just old enough to understand the significance of Barack Obama, his platform, and his image, and I was just young enough that I cared little for anything but those three things. With age has come greater nuance and more understanding, and I may disagree with Barack Obama on many things, but I have remained totally set in my opinion that the Obamas are my favorite First Family, and I really don’t want them to go.
After last week’s Canadian State Dinner, I saved multiple photos of Barack, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha to use as the wallpaper on my phone. It’s currently of the First Family walking down a red-carpeted hallway, Malia delicately lifting the hem of her uber expensive and uber beautiful Naeem Khan gown while Sasha and Michelle chat animatedly, dressed in their equally expensive and beautiful Naeem Khan gowns. Barack, not at all the focal point of this particular image, follows in the background. It’s a gorgeous photo (good for you, Pete Souza!) and deeply indicative of what I’ve come to love about the First Family.
This must have been how people felt about the Kennedys–that they were endlessly glamorous and charming and beautiful. This has been the effect of Barack Obama since his first presidential campaign kicked off. He was the “celebrity” president, and despite whatever criticisms went along with that, I loved it. I was very into celebrities at the time. I could always be counted on to carry some glossy tabloid around with me, and I saw nothing wrong with a president who I wanted to see decked out in formalwear, who I wanted to watch on SNL, who I wanted to hear speak, who I wanted to follow on Twitter, who I wanted to watch speak with prima ballerina Misty Copeland about race, who I wanted to watch Hamilton writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda freestyle for. It made perfect sense to enjoy my President, and Barack Obama became the first (and potentially the last) president I’d seen and developed some sort of connection.
Here I am, talking as if I’ve been around for so many presidents when in actuality Barack Obama may as well been the first president in my twenty-three years of life for all the interest I paid his predecessors. My love for the Obamas is undoubtedly tied to their rise to prominence, beginning when I was in middle school and finally culminating in Barack’s election as president when I was a sophomore in high school. The Obamas ascended to the national stage just as everyone was realizing the scope of the internet and social media was just becoming a thing, and people were just realizing how possible it was to peek in on America’s leader. This has happened before, at least in some form. Most notably it was the Kennedys, whose incredible wealth and glamour had them dubbed “America’s Royal Family”. But I wasn’t around for the Kennedys, and I’m not entirely convinced they could really combat the Obamas in cool cred.
For so long the White House has seemed incredibly far away, even as the people within it have in their power the ability to alter and shape the lives of many, both American and not. I’ve never visited the White House, and my experience with it is limited to Scandal, continued failed attempts at getting into House of Cards and My Date With The President’s Daughter. All these things are ridiculous, but the Obamas are not, and I’ve grown to care very much about the Obamas and what will happen to them once they put the White House in their rearview. I had the surreal moment of seeing photos of Malia and Sasha and being surprised (as one’s distant grandmother might be) by how much both had grown, and when my mom bought me a Tracy Reese dress, my first thought was that the First Lady had worn a lot of her pieces before. All the glimpses of them we’ve gotten over the past eight years have built a picture of a familial unit steeped in political wonder, wrapped in star quality and still enough like mine that I can’t look away.
Yes, I know my not voting today fulfills some stereotype about ignorant and self-involved millennials who don’t care about anything other than their Twitter timelines and when Beyonce’s next album will drop. I didn’t withhold my vote today to protest Barack Obama leaving office or in some weird solo attempt to force the government to allow him a third term, I’ve just grown increasingly apathetic to all things Election 2016. I’m registered to vote as a Democrat, and I’ll gladly vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, whichever one of them wins the nomination, but I no longer care which of them does. It’s not just about my wallpaper, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t play a part. The Obamas are on my phone because I like having them in the White House, and I’ve apparently been spoiled by such a sentiment. It never occurred to me until just about now that the Obamas won’t be the First Family anymore, and whoever wins the White House will not match them in sophistication, charisma or pure watchability.
Sure the Obamas will still be out there somewhere, and they’ll be tapped for opinions on the political world as it changes. Maybe Barack will come out with another book (or maybe Michelle will!), but it won’t be the same. Eight years is a long time to get comfortable with a political leader, and this election has made the impending change especially anxiety-inducing. I’ve done the absentee ballot thing before. I could have done it again, and I will do it again when I cast my vote for the presidential election. But I envy those who have found a candidate they love, who they are excited about watching and listening to and voting for. I’m convinced the past thrill I got from Barack Obama, and the one I still have when I see him and his family at work, will never be replicated and even on a purely superficial level, I will never truly care about my president again.