January 20, 2009

Not to crap on the parade, but...

[Normally I try to respond to the last comments before my next post, but this is an important occasion. And also, I've been "celebrating"...]

So I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Just getting that out of the way.

Not because I was such a rabid supporter (in fact, I always joke that Bill Clinton was our "Best Republican President Ever!"), but at primary time I honestly thought both Clinton and Obama were equally qualified to lead the nation. And, when it came down to actually deciding, when presented with two equally qualified candidates, I voted for the woman.

Because I have to say, voting for a woman gave me a teary-eyed moment of pride, like I keep seeing in the Obama coverage, right there in the Brookline Devotion School gymnasium. If, heaven forbid, I ever have children, I realized I could tell my daughters - without bullshitting them - that anyone could grow up to be President of the United States.

So I am not belittling the momentousness of electing an African-American president, I'm really not.

And I do love me some Obama. God, I'm so excited to have a charismatic speaker and writer and intellectual for president, after years of hostility to science and intellectual curiosity, not to mention the mangling of the English language...that was a damned pretty inauguration speech. I'm a sucker for well-turned phrases about hope and sacrifice and the common good, and extolling what right-minded people can accomplish if we just work together. Also, don't ever tell, but the song "Simple Gifts" is one of my favorite things in the entire world. Shut up.

That said, I'm not sure I get the Obama thing. Yes, for liberals, after eight brutal years of seeing everything we believed in at best ignored or quietly overturned, and, at worst, demonized, we have a president who is reasonably aligned with our ideals. A president who values communication and humility and accountability over bloviating, moral rectitude, and a towering sense of macho entitlement. A president whose policy propositions are not actually, well, destructive.

But, but, but...for so many people, Obama is so much more than an elitist liberal policy wonk's wet dream. There's something about him that is fundamentally different from other presidents (besides the, um, obvious difference). Something that inspires and engages previously apathetic and hopeless people. Something that makes people believe.

I keep hearing things like "I can believe in my country again" or "I have hope for the first time" or "I'm not ashamed to be an American anymore." And I am so incredibly happy that Obama is inspiring that kind of hope in people, because - compared to many other nations - we have a damned apathetic populace, in terms of political participation.

But I just don't get it. I never really lost hope in America in the first place. And I was never ashamed of my country. Misguided, stupid, and embarrassing though the last eight years may have been, I never lost a sense that America was fundamentally okay. Or would be, eventually. This country is far from perfect, and I really did feel like most of my fundamental values were under assault by a horribly misguided administration for the last eight years. But that administration wasn't America, to me. My country was deeply flawed, but I knew it would get better. And I would do my part to bitch and moan and fight and vote to make it better. Because part of loving your country is realizing that it can always do better, and it's your job as a citizen to hold it to that standard.

So, as much as I love finally hearing a president speaking inspiring words that are actually aligned with my political ideals, and as much as I recognize that this is, in fact, an amazing moment in American history and politics... what really matters is what he does with it, no?

This nation seems to be unprecedentedly optimistic, enthusiastic and excited about what our president and what we, as Americans, can do.

So what is it that you hope for in the next 4-8 years? What important things do you want to see us accomplish? Regardless of your politics, what would you do with this outpouring of "Yes we can?"

5 comments:

Clumsy Knitter said...

You're not crapping on anyone's parade. I agree with everything you're saying. Today was a day to celebrate, for many reasons. My hope is not only for Obama to fulfill the promises of his campaign, but for all of us as citizens to hold the government accountable for fulfilling those promises. Apathy makes us all responsible for failure.

Sarah said...

If I did not know we were already friends then this post would be that post that would make me say "oh, we're supposed to be friends". I am thrilled he is pres but I am going to save my Obama worship until he actually gets a chance to lead.

Tina M. said...

I very much understand what you're saying, but I can explain why someone like me has said "I'm not ashamed to be an American anymore".

When the world looks at America we are judged by our actions, our policies and our leader. By that measure, a fair one I'd say since we do the same in return, by that measure I have been bitterly ashamed of my nation. Do not get me wrong, I'm at the same time proud to be an American because there is so much right about us. But what is wrong about us is diseased and spreading.

Americans have had almost a decade of fear and war mongering. Believe it or not, I was told by someone I work with that I was a traitor to my country for voting for Obama. Seriously. Later in the discussion I had to explain what civil liberties were because they honestly didn't know. Attitudes like that have become more prevalent over the years and our previous administration certainly wasn't helping.

It seemed that everywhere I looked I saw more fear, mistrust and complacency than hope. As a Democratic Republic we make a statement, as a country, about what is important to us each time we vote (or don't vote!). Since the majority of people went in for the same man and leadership values twice... yeah, I was feeling pretty awful about the situation as a whole.

Anywho, before I get creepy long here, I just wanted to say that I agree with a lot of what you say, and had some thoughts on the rest. Totally going to take a shower now and face the day! Have a good one.

Jenny said...

I don't think you're crapping on any parade, in fact it sounds to me like you're asking exactly the same questions our president is asking. I see no difference, except that you're asking out of curiosity and his asking is more of a request or expectation.

I haven't been ashamed of our country, or ashamed to be an American, though I have been embarrassed of our leader. I didn't vote for him, though (that last one, not this one) so it wasn't a personal embarrassment. In terms of the newfound hopefulness that I have, that's simply because I came into a sense of political awareness during the Bush administration. I wasn't old enough to vote for Clinton, nor did I give one ounce of thought to politics as a teenager, so all I'd ever known were disappointing leaders. Not only that, but from my early 20's vantage point, politicians who get far enough to become president become corrupt and evil pretty quickly, and never live up to promises.

However, with this guy, it's a gut thing. I don't think he's corrupt and I think he will stand by his word. Plus, I agree with very many of his stances. That helps. :) I have a few problems, of course, but he is a reasonable person who has shown that he thinks a whole problem through before he acts on it. That alone is enough to give me much more hope than I ever had. I can live with policies I disagree with when they are created from a place of intelligent thought, as opposed to eyes screwed up tight and fingers in the ears and yelling "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU I'M RIGHT I'M RIGHT I'M RIGHT!" In addition, I don't think any policy should be made based on what men wrote in a book thousands of years ago and then called the word of god, and I don't respect a president who does.

Are you going to come visit in October so we can all go to Rhinebeck again? Seriously, dude, save your pennies for that. It's important. When you don't come to Rhinebeck, the terrorists win.

Elinor said...

I'm with you on a lot of this. I voted for Obama because he was not a Republican, not associated with Bush. I'm thrilled that he is president but I expect nothing but "better than Bush" from his presidency. Is that pessimistic? I don't mean it to be. I'm overjoyed that Bushies are gone but I'm not framing my Objets d'Obama or anything.