Jeff’s Passionate Support Of Obama In The Days Of “Yes We Can”

26 Sep

-Email from Jeff, 3/9/09

The late summer and fall of 2008 was arguably one of the scarier times in our country’s history.  In one weekend alone, our government declined to save Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy, and Bank of America stepped in to buy Merrill Lynch when it was on the brink of collapse.  A few days after this, the feds had to step in to save AIG with an $85 billion rescue package, and on September 29th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged a record 777.68 points, continuing a devastating bear market in stocks.  The retirement nest eggs of many Americans were evaporating before their very eyes, home values were plummeting, unemployment was beginning to soar, and to many, it felt as if the world was coming to an end.

But at 21 years old, Jeff embodied the spirit and sentiments of tens of thousands of college students across the nation, and he viewed that very same time period through a very different prism.  For him, it was a time of great hope and excitement.  Jeff was a history major, and history was in the making.  A young, dynamic candidate named Barack Obama was running to become our first African American President, and he campaigned on a platform of hope and change.

Jeff became an instant supporter and he devoted himself to the cause by trying to convince anyone who would listen (including his Republican father) that it was crucial to all of our futures that Obama be elected.  In his opinion, George W. Bush had sorely lacked the intelligence necessary to be this country’s President and to be an effective global leader.  In this regard, Jeff felt Obama would represent a huge upgrade and would enable us to rebuild our relationships with crucial allies around the world and to regain their respect.  Not that Jeff was any sort of intellectual snob- he was anything but.  He just felt that the person holding the most important job in the land should have a modicum of intelligence to enable him/her to think clearly and analytically to address the nation’s problems.

The 2012 Presidential campaign, which is now in the stretch run, has sparked so many amazing memories for me of the 2008 campaign, and specifically how much fun it was enjoying with Jeff the months leading up to the election. He couldn’t have been more excited to vote for a presidential candidate for the first time, especially since he wholeheartedly supported one of them.  I wanted to share these memories with the readers of this blog.

Everybody knows Jeff as a sports guy, and for good reason.  As the beat writer for the Middlebury men’s basketball team, writer of his regular J.K. Rolling sports column, sports editor of The Middlebury Campus, and creator of the Talkin’ Sports blog after college, he was certainly that.  But I wonder how many people actually know just how knowledgeable, passionate and articulate he was about politics, particularly during the 2008 campaign.  He was completely engaged in the campaign, and helping in any way he could to spread the Obama “gospel” was probably his highest priority during that time.

Jeff was determined that his first conquest would be his dad.  Jeff knew he had a shot with me, because I’m a moderate Republican, and I was so disgusted with George W that, in 2004, I did the unthinkable for a guy like me.  I voted for John Kerry.  But with Bush on his way out, Jeff was concerned that I would return to my Republican voting habits, and he was right.  I admired both Romney and McCain, and I certainly planned to vote for either of them that November.  And so, in an email sent to me on July 16, 2008, Jeff fired his opening salvo:

“The conservative Bush administration allowed us to be attacked by terrorists on 9/11, our economy is in shambles, we are hated around the world, more dependent on foreign oil than ever, the government is rife with corruption, censorship, and backroom dealing, we are trillions in debt, less able to defend ourselves because of total failure of execution on an unnecessary war in Iraq, unable to protect ourselves from natural disasters…the list goes on and on.  You had your chance and you failed.”

Wow, talk about not pulling any punches.  I reminded Jeff that I hadn’t failed- I hadn’t even voted for the guy in 2004.  I also reminded him that, while I agreed with him on Bush’s shortcomings, he wasn’t running this time around- don’t condemn the whole party because of this one guy.  Instead, keep an open mind and evaluate McCain and Romney on their own merits.  My arguments were to no avail.  Obama’s campaign slogan, which resonated not only with Jeff, but with millions of other Americans, was “Yes We Can.”  Jeff loved it, so much so that he regularly and randomly would say that to me out of the blue.

In August of that summer, we took a family trip to Paris and Barcelona.  We of course went the top of the Eiffel Tower, taking in the magnificent view.  And the Louvre, Musee de L’Armee and Arc de Triomphe. Then in Barcelona, we walked on Las Ramblas time and again and enjoyed the amazing architecture.  But as much as anything, I remember Jeff talking about the primaries and his hope that Obama would win the Democratic nomination.  And a week later, at the end of the month, Obama did just that, prevailing over Hillary Clinton, and Jeff went out and bought the Obama poster he had been looking for, with a drawing of the candidate and that slogan on it.  He immediately tacked it to the wall above his bed at home, where it remains today.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower, August 2008

At the Joan Miro museum in Barcelona, August 2008

In my heart, I knew deep down that the country would not likely go for four more years under a Republican President.  Yet, I completely enjoyed my ongoing political repartee with Jeff, and I loved goading him periodically about the possibility of Obama blowing this golden opportunity against a wounded Republican party.   On September 8th, I emailed Jeff an article from written by Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who had worked in the Reagan administration.  The article’s title was “Obama Wrong To Spurn Hillary, Pick Biden”, and it basically said that Obama’s VP choice did the least to enhance a ticket since the elder Bush picked Dan Quayle in 1988.  Within 30 minutes, Jeff fired back with the following email:

“I agree that he should have chosen Hillary, obviously, because then he would have had the election in the bag, but apparently he doesn’t want that.  But I think it’s ludicrous for this guy Ed Rollins to say that the choice of Biden does the least to enhance a ticket since 1988, because Biden provides exactly what Obama lacks: experience on foreign policy.  I see that the Republicans are getting a big convention bounce.  It’s going to be really close.”

I couldn’t resist emailing Jeff back and pushing the point that Obama made a dumb move by not picking Hillary and locking up the election.  Jeff’s response was classic:

“Yea, that’s true, if Obama wanted to ensure a victory, he should’ve picked Clinton.  But at the same time, you can also argue that the majority of this country is made up of morons who vote McCain for stupid reasons.”

At that point, the seeds of doubt had been sowed in Jeff’s mind.  But I think his comments above were spot on.  Biden did fill an important gap for Obama, and his experience would likely help the ticket.  To keep him riled up, though, I emailed him a Bloomberg article two days later whose headline screamed that McCain was surging in the polls, making the Democrats nervous.  His reply had some nervousness in it too.  He wrote:

“Yea, I’m worried about what has been unfolding as of late.  I just hope that the electoral map that I’ve envisioned works out.  Obama’s definitely going to lose a lot of states, but if he can hang on in the critical states, he still has a good chance.”

Jeff had actually mapped it all out by then, and by his tally, Obama would still pull it off.  He was extremely analytical about everything, and this election campaign was no exception.  On September 26th, I emailed Jeff to let him know that CNN had just put Michigan in the “leaning toward Obama” category and that I thought the financial crisis would be McCain’s undoing.  His response illustrated that he didn’t need me to tell him anything about the electoral map.  He was all over it:

“Yea, McCain’s call to cancel the first debate was pure politics, and something the majority of the American voters will see through.  Polls show that states that for the last few months have been solidly pro-McCain (North Carolina, Missouri, West Virginia) are extremely close now; a Rasmussen poll yesterday even showed Obama up by two points in North Carolina.  I think the wheels are truly falling off the McCain express, but only time will tell.”

The wheels may have been falling off, but given the enormity of what was at stake, Jeff was determined not to leave anything to chance.  In his view, if he could change even one mind, convert even one McCain supporter to Obama, it was worth the effort.  His first order of business that fall was to make sure he had all his closest friends in the right camp.  On October 2nd, things were looking good for Obama, and I emailed Jeff that in a month’s time, the party would be on at Middlebury.  He agreed:

“Will it ever.  This campus will be nuts.  I saw Jamie Robins tonight and we were talking a little bit about politics.  His dad is also in finance and is a republican and will probably vote for McCain, but at the same time, is a sensible person who understands the dire implications of a McCain presidency.  All my Chappaqua friends are now on board the Obama express; by that I mean Jack and Ryan, who at the beginning of the summer were McCain supporters but now have seen what a joke the ticket is and are now in the Obama camp.”

Jeff was pumped.  He felt his voice was being heard, and It energized him.  So he resolved not to stop there.  Although the Middlebury campus was overwhelmingly in favor of Obama, Jeff wanted unanimity.  He wanted to make sure every last person on that campus—students, professors, administrators, cafeteria workers, everyone– was an Obama supporter so that the whole place could erupt in celebration in unison on election night.

But he needed a bigger forum, and time was running out.  And so, in mid-October, Jeff went to the Managing Editor of The Middlebury Campus newspaper and strongly requested the opportunity to write a column on the paper’s Opinions page prior to the election.  As most people who know Jeff will attest, it is pretty hard to say no to Jeff Klein (I know I never could), especially in relation to something he is passionate about.  So what the heck if Jeff had only written about sports up to that point- the Managing Editor quickly acquiesced and Jeff was slotted in to be the guest author for the regular Opinions column entitled “Notes From The Desk”, on October 23rd. 

The result was a big success and something Jeff was very proud of. The piece was entitled “Obama’s Got The Right Stuff”, and suffice to say, the sports guy had scored with his first political opinion article.  He received congratulatory emails and high fives on campus, and he felt exhilarated by the response.  As for me, his Republican father, I was so proud that I began to secretly accept that an Obama victory was imminent, and I resolved to just enjoy my son’s excitement at this outcome (I didn’t tell him this, though).  Here are a couple of snippets from the article:

“Simply put, in these most extraordinary times, we need an intelligent president.  One that, unlike our current president George Bush and Republican nominee John McCain, recognizes that not every issue is black and white, that—believe it or not—some issues actually require complex reasoning and analysis.  Moreover, we need a president who understands that the dreaded “flip-flop” label, which Republicans so shamelessly attached to John Kerry back in 2004, can actually have a positive connotation.  It means that you have the intellectual capacity and sound judgment to adjust to changing circumstances and make the correct decision, the very quality that George Bush sorely lacks…

“What I’m trying to say is that in less than two weeks, we have a decision to make that will substantially affect the future of our country.  Beginning on January 20, 2009, will our country be led by an impulsive, erratic, ‘every issue is black and white’ President McCain, or will it be led by, as Colin Powell so nicely summarized, a man who displays steadiness, intellectual curiosity, and a depth of knowledge—a leader by the name of President Obama ?  For the sake of our country, I hope that it is the latter.”

When Carey and I complimented him by email on the great piece, he responded:  “Yea, it’s a matter of restoring integrity, respectability, and most importantly, intelligence to the White House.  Only Obama will bring that.  I want to be proud of my country again.” 

With the inevitability of an Obama victory becoming clear, I couldn’t resist one final opportunity to push Jeff’s buttons.  And so on October 22nd, I emailed him a shocking article from Yahoo! News, whose title was “AP presidential poll: All even in the homestretch.”  Jeff was stunned and clearly baffled.  He immediately responded:

“I can’t believe this.  This directly contradicts an article on today’s front page of the Wall Street Journal saying that Obama has opened up a double-digit lead and has gained substantially with almost every group, including independents, suburban voters, and people over 65.”

At that point, Jeff had given his first election campaign as a voter everything he had, and there was nothing more to do but wait for the votes to be counted (including his own absentee ballot).  He had rested his case.  The Middlebury book store held a contest for students to submit their electoral vote predictions.  Jeff submitted a count of 318-220 in favor of Obama.  It turns out he was being too conservative with that tally.  McCain only wished it was that close.

Seconds after 11pm Eastern Standard Time on November 4, 2008, the instant the polls closed in the western states, all of the major networks immediately called the election for Obama.  My eyes welled with tears, candidly not because of the historic nature of the moment, but because of the email that I knew was bound to hit my AOL account within a matter of minutes after the initial round of congratulatory hugs were exchanged at Middlebury.  And sure enough, there it was, three minutes later.  It was short and sweet, not gloating, but just triumphant and respectful.  At exactly 11:03pm, Jeff sent the following email to me:

The tears that had welled proceeded then to stream, as I contemplated with great pride how my son had become an engaged, energized and thoughtful young adult over the preceding six months, before my very eyes.  And the fact that I shared this period of time so closely with him made it all the more special.  How ironic it is that I specifically remember thinking about how Jeff had so much to offer the world over the coming years and that any company or organization would be very lucky to have him on their side.  President Obama sure was.

While Obama has since called people like me “fat cats” and has been a disappointment to many others, I always remember one thing.  He was my son’s candidate and the one who energized him in a way that was beautiful to watch.  I remain grateful to him for that.  I also feel sorry for the President, though, that one of his greatest supporters will not be here to help him during what could turn out to be a very tight re-election contest.

The afterglow of victory lasted throughout the rest of that fall semester.  The electoral votes were not fully counted until over two weeks after election night, and on November 19th, Jeff joyfully emailed me the following update:

“Do you know that Obama ended up winning an electoral vote in Nebraska?!  The electoral votes in that state are divided up by congressional district and Obama ended up nabbing one.  Adding to the landslide—I love it.  And apparently Missouri isn’t officially decided yet either, so that could potentially be 11 more in his column.”

Shortly after Jeff’s email, Missouri was called for McCain.  Too little, too late for the Arizona Senator.

And then there was this little email tirade at 3am on November 20th: “I’m sorry, I’ve had a few drinks because of wnb [Wednesday night Beirut, a Middlebury staple] but I still hold my convictions and even though I know Obama will be inaugurated on jan. 20, 2009, I still get enraged listening to this idiot [Bush] and knowing that our stupid country elected him to lead us for 8 years. 

p.s. I don’t know if you read dan roberts’ column in the most recent edition of the middlebury campus, but basically what he said is the truest—and saddest—statement about our country.  It goes something like this: what the hell are the satirists, comedians and the media in general going to do once Obama is elected president?  I mean, there’s nothing really to make fun of, nothing really to occupy their time.  They might go out of business.”

To further celebrate the victory, Jeff wrote on the bottom of his Obama poster, “Yes We Did”.

And to close out the fall semester in style, Jeff texted me the following reminder on December 7th: “Obama’s getting inaugurated in less than a month and a half. Ahhhhhhhhhh !!!!!!!”

How and why Jeff went from “Yes We Can” to “No I Never Will” just two short years later is a mystery so deep and so confounding that it keeps many of my nights sleepless and rattles me to the core.  But rather than dwelling on that, I am ending this post by sending out a call to arms to all the readers of this blog.

When you take a mental survey of every person that you care about, please don’t take any of their outward appearances as the definitive measure of their current emotional state.  I know it may seem unnatural in a day-to-day relationship context with a friend or family member (especially a child or young adult), but you must periodically ask the tough and perhaps awkward questions of that person- how are they really feeling about things?  Are there any issues that are bothering them?  You must let them know that you are there for them to talk about anything 24/7.  You must press the people you care about to open up to you, even if they are private and reserved by nature.

If you’ve read this post, you hopefully have gleaned from it just how happy and vibrant Jeff was in 2008.  Well, guess what?  He was happy and vibrant all the way through August of 2010.  Until he wasn’t any more.  And so lesson number two is that keeping tabs on your friends and loved ones is an ongoing process that never ends.  It’s like analyzing a company’s balance sheet, which is a statement of financial condition on one specific day.  But a week, a month, or a year later, it could be completely different.  So too with a person’s emotional condition.  So don’t ever get complacent when it comes to those you love.  And to state the obvious, if you yourself are feeling unhealthy in any way, SPEAK UP and don’t wait for people to ask.  The relationships we have with our loved ones are partnerships, and that brings with it a responsibility on the part of both sides to communicate. 

Carey’s and my lines of communication with Jeff had been wide open since the day he learned how to talk, so we knew how much he was struggling during those last two months.  But I don’t think anyone else knew the extent of it, because on the surface, he was the same old Jeff– still going out and partying in Manhattan to his very last weekend.  In Jeff’s case, we were aware of the problem, addressed it aggressively and still couldn’t save him.  However, that won’t be the case with everyone.  There are those who can be saved, and that is the goal—to find those lurking dangers and to address them before it’s too late.

I’ll practice what I preach and break the ice.  Here’s how I’m doing:

I have endured a parent’s worst nightmare and have many rough, deeply painful days and nights.  The magnitude of the sense of loss that I feel is immeasurable.  I have shed enough tears to fill an Olympic-sized pool and I’m sure there are many tears to come in the months and years ahead.  My spirit has been badly damaged.  I miss my boy and everything about him.

But I am a blessed man with three precious sons, two here and one in Heaven, and they all love me.  I have a wife like no other, friends and family who care about me, and I will love and take care of them all forever.  I am here for the duration and am not going anywhere until God decides it’s my time.  Until then, I am committed to the cause of eradicating the plague of suicide from our society.

In my case, you don’t need to ask me periodically, because the answer will never change.  I’m severely wounded but ok.   And while I may no longer be Superman, I am still pretty damn strong, and I will fight through this by honoring the memory of my beautiful son Jeff for the rest of my life.  I will keep him alive through this blog, this special gift from my and Jeff’s dear friend, Elon Rubin, and through the Friends of Jeff Klein Facebook page.  And I will celebrate Jeff by attempting to live each and every day according to the mantra that he so passionately embraced, not only in 2008, but for the first 23 ½ years of his life:

Yes We Can.


-Rich Klein

One Response to “Jeff’s Passionate Support Of Obama In The Days Of “Yes We Can””

  1. mike philson September 27, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    real. powerful. stuff.
    Jeff woulda been supporting the campaign in 2012. No doubt I’ll think of him on election day. What a stand up kid

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