Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Because of What's at Stake

I don't need to tell you that Barack Obama will be inaugurated the 44th president of the United States today. Or that millions of people are lined up in DC, hoping for a chance to catch a glimpse of the man we have elected to lead us out of this mess we're in.

And I sure don't need to tell you that the country is holding its collective breath to see if he can be even half the man we have asked him to be.

I will say that I am extremely pleased and hopeful that this country is finally looking at the office of the President with real regard and with an air of excitement. We need to feel like our elected officials are worthy of our respect. We NEED them to be heroes, and it's rarely been the case during my lifetime. I've seen the last four inaugurations met with emotions ranging from bored acceptance to open disdain.

Not everyone is excited, of course. I have seen and heard comments from people who, while they acknowledge the popularity and oratory skill of our President-Elect, cannot wait to see him falter, so they can mock and point fingers and say, "See? I told you he was a puffed-up, over-hyped incompetent!"

I sure hope they don't. Not that I don't think Obama will falter, and soon at that. He cannot help but do so, and not just because every President does. The expectations placed on this man are overwhelming to an extreme. And despite what both his detractors and supporters say, he is neither The One, The Messiah, nor the embodiment of NAACP writer Jabari Asim's "Magic Negro".

Barack Obama is just a man, albeit an exceptionally intelligent and poised one. I think he will make a good president in tough times. But when he makes a mistake, I hope that he is not lit upon by the far right, with the sour grapes taste of November's defeat still fresh on their tongues. I admit, it will be tempting. The Bush administration sure hasn't been spared the liberal lash during its eight-year tenure. But I'll submit that the stakes are higher this time, for a lot of reasons.

This country is embroiled in a combination of economic and political turmoil that hasn't been seen since the beginning of World War II. Make no mistake: it really *is* that bad. And it's going to take a collective will and collective sacrifice, equal to the one we made then, to pull us out. But the difference is that this time, we don't have a shared enemy to line up against. the amorphous "War on Terror" is meaningful to us only when there are human casualties to count and mourn. While we can decry the 4,000+ dead and 40,000+ wounded in the last five years, they pale in comparison to the tens of thousands of American lives lost in WWII. While we are paying more than usual for milk and bread, we aren't rationing our metals and nylons. Most of the time, most Americans forget that we have 200,000 of our young men and women overseas. The result is that we have to imagine and create our own rallying points, which makes this recovery an order of magnitude more difficult than the last one.

So I hope that, at least for the short term, those who would divide us by mocking and detracting from this administration will stay silent and help row the boat. Maybe even sing a song or two to help make the work easier. Because the alternative -- years of political dissent, stalled progress, and continued decline in our world standing and economic health -- is an outcome we cannot afford. While John F. Kennedy's admonition to "Ask what you can do for your country" may feel like a cliche in our modern age of detached cynicism, it is time for the men and women of this country to carry their President on their shoulders, instead of relying on his shoulders to carry them.

I promise, once we dig out of the mess that's been accumulating in this country for the last eight (ok, to be fair, probably more like 12 or 14) years, you can go back to your puffed-up punditry with my blessing.

Until then, God bless and keep you, Mr. Obama.

One additional note: Aretha, you still have it, sister!


Sue said...

Thanks for writing this today...it will be an inspiration day and should be...

bhd said...

I'm reminded of something else Kennedy said: "We choose to go to
the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,
because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

Substitute the task at hand, rather than the moon. I'm in!

winter said...

Very well said, and timely. Time to roll up our sleeves - there's work to do.

Dessed (adj.) - completely unable to conceive of an alternative to the present reality. "Jim doesn't get it - he's so dessed."