Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Brief Encounter with President Obama by Dr. Alan Singer

Do you know how long I have been waiting to write my little meet-the-President story? Years. This column appeared in the February 11, 2009 Home News Tribune and was truly great fun to write.

My brush with fame took place in the spring of 2006. I was waiting for an elevator in the U.S. Capitol building when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama appeared next to me. Here is our brief exchange:

SINGER: "Senator Obama, I want to thank you for your inspiring remarks. (One hour prior, Obama addressed our delegation.) It was nice of you to take the time in your schedule to speak to our group."
OBAMA: "You are very welcome (shaking my hand and glancing at my ID badge). Where are you from, Dr. Singer?" (Bell rings; elevator door opens and we step in.)
SINGER: "I am from New Jersey, and Senator Obama, I can see why they say you are a rising star in the Democratic Party."
OBAMA: "Thanks, that's very nice of you, but you actually just stepped into an elevator that is for senators only. Sorry."
SINGER: Oops! (Stepping out of the elevator.) So nice to meet you and best of luck to you."

So much for my face-to-face encounter with our new president. As I pressed the button to ascend in the bank of elevators designated for the general public, I never would have imagined that I had just shaken hands with the future president of the United States.

There are millions of Americans whose dreams and hopes are now fulfilled by virtue of the fact that President Obama was elected and now serves as our commander in chief. While contemplating my own dreams and hopes for our new president and our country, I came across a recent survey by the Lifetime Television Network. The research titled "Every Woman Counts" is a compilation of data based on the responses of 600 American women.

The nonpartisan "Every Woman Counts" campaign is an effort to engage women in the political process. Seventy-one percent of the women surveyed believed that the economy should be the No. 1 concern for the Obama administration. Health care and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the next highest priorities. According to the news release on the poll, "The plurality (35 percent) of women said they will know that Barack Obama is attending to the needs of women if he addresses the issues related to families and work — life balance, while 22 percent said they will hold him accountable based on the way he handles the economy. One in ten said they will base their review of the Obama administration on whether he deals with pay equity."

I was gratified that "67 percent of women said that President Obama should not consider gender at all when appointing his Cabinet, and should just focus on qualifications." But, I believe it is unfortunate that 65 percent of the women surveyed believe that male and female candidates are held to different standards on the campaign trail. Male candidates, they indicated, have the edge on: being taken seriously by voters; being covered seriously by the media; addressing issues such as national security/terrorism, and addressing the issue of the economy.

Another positive note from this research had to do with the candidacies of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. "Eighty-six percent of the women surveyed said that young girls and women in their lives would be more likely to take an interest in politics thanks to the experiences of these women," according to the survey.

And to the man in the senators-only elevator, it was a privilege to shake your hand and wish you good luck, because you really do have your hands full.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site