President Obama confided in me this morning. I was asleep. “I don’t believe in Jesus,” he told me, “but I get a lot of flak for it.” Boy was I surprised, even if it was a dream. Why was he telling me this?
I recall reading that the prez missed taking walks spontaneously; back in the olden days when he was a mere U.S. senator from Illinois he could stroll the streets of Chicago without fanfare. In my dream, Obama wore a disguise — jeans, a green and white horizontally striped t-shirt and a straw cowboy hat. Nobody recognized him as he chatted up Tucsonans in unfamiliar shops. The president craved conversation with ordinary people.
But then I recognized him. He started talking to me in my dream but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Was he reciting a poem or what? I considered reciting one back to him to show that we were compadres, but instead I told him two stories, both of which had actually happened in real life.
“Remember the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston?” He nodded but didn’t say anything. “Well I was there,” I said, reminding him of his electrifying speech when he proclaimed, “we’re not a red America or a blue America, we’re one America.”
Who was this guy I had never heard of before? He has a future, I remember thinking. Walking from the Fleet Center to the Government Center MBTA stop I saw him, the State Senator Barack Obama from Illinois. He was smoking a cigarette, with a few people strolling along beside him.
What an opportunity, a journalist’s dream! I caught up with him. “That was a magnificent speech,” I may have said. I definitely asked if he was going to run for president. He chuckled, nearly choking on his cigarette, and said something like “I’m not even a senator yet.” It occurred to me, maybe he hadn’t yet planned a future run for president. But now I’m not sure. Anyway, he was definitely a nice guy, and I liked him in that brief exchange. I still do.
Since Obama has been president I’ve wondered if he has the stomach for some of the sicko politics he has to contend with, which reminds me of my other major political encounter. In 1972, I worked in the campaign of another presidential candidate I loved voting for. We were in Montana getting out the vote. Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic candidate brought down by Tricky Dicky and Watergate, was coming to Great Falls for a major appearance at the airport. All day I pondered what I would say in my split-second opportunity.
“Just keep telling the truth,” I told McGovern. That’s still the best advice for any politician — in reality or in my dreams.