The Return of the Real Barack Obama

Change we can believe in. Again.

Buoyancy, as a human attribute, is always in short supply. Think how few you know who possess it. In tough economic times, buoyancy is harder to find than guys in Yankee caps on the Broad Street Line, as rare as Ackerman supporters on, as elusive as a sober sorority girl at Jolly’s Piano Bar. To be buoyant is to be cheerful; to recover quickly and emotionally from disappointment and setbacks. It’s the rare bird who owns it.

People lose their mojo in hard times. No surprise there. When hard times grow roots, buoyancy can’t be found high or low and things can get really sad and stupid. Apathy and melancholia set in. Tea Parties sprout. Birther movements grow stubborn. Despite multiple displays of abject senselessness, Donald Trump and like-minded jesters get free passes from people once thought relatively sound.

Weird becomes the new normal, which can sound cute—kind of like hanging out with Christopher Walken or living in a David Lynch movie—but it isn’t like that at all. It’s more like being stuck on a rainy weekend in a chilly, damp condo with the cast of Jersey Shore. Stupid.

At Mighty Writers, the nonprofit program where I work, we have more than 300 volunteer writing tutors signed up. A lot of different people come to Mighty Writers to help, people of all ages and educational backgrounds. We value them all.

But there is one characteristic we treasure above all others; it’s one we can’t see on a resume or read in an email. But when we find a volunteer who has it, we hang on for dear life. Buoyancy, we’ve discovered, is contagious; it makes you want to live large; it energizes time. It fills a space with grace.

We all, or almost all of us, last felt collectively buoyant during the “Yes We Can” days, remember? It may seem like eons ago in blood and tears, but it was just a short time ago in calendar years. We believed change was coming. Yes, we sure did.

Yesterday the President, the man we believed in, the man who would bring us the change, reminded us of those hope-filled days of yore when he promised to eliminate—for real this time—tax cuts for Americans in the highest tax brackets. These guys don’t need them, he said, so why should we give it to them?

He used to say that all the time. We liked it then, and we like it now, and so do most Americans—even a lot of rich ones. We were happy the President said those tax cuts would be eliminated. That’s why we voted for him. He knew what was fair.

And he still does. It’s not going to be as easy as he thought to make things fair, and it’s going to take a lot longer than we like. It already has. But better times are coming. You can see it over the horizon.

And if that sounds buoyant, I can live with that just fine.

Tim Whitaker ( is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.