Sunday, September 9, 2012

Post Hope

President Barack Obama speaks at the Democratic National Convention

I undertook a much too infrequent exercise Thursday night, and went back and read what I wrote in 2008 in preparing myself to listen to what the president would be saying in 2012.

The column was written the day after Obama won the 2008 election.

I was a bit surprised at how many things I feared would happen came to pass.

I also decided that I would post the column here and see what other people think about the 2008 Obama vs. the 2012 model. Please feel free to share your thoughts:
I am not much given to hope.

As a journalist, an American and a human being, not necessarily in that order, I've seen more than my share of lies. It makes hope hard.

"Show me," I say, "and I'll believe."

But of course this misses the point.

Require evidence and the opportunity for faith and, to a lesser degree, hope, is diminished.

"You have to believe," my wise wife Karen said serenely over and over as our Phillie phanatic of a 10-year-old chewed through his nails watching the World Series.

Me? New to fan-hood, I crouched doubtful on the couch, quietly cursing them for making us want it, for making us believe they (we) we could get it, and then making us sweat while we steeled ourselves for another disappointment.

But Karen, she never lost faith, and in the end, she was proven right. Having been shown, I started to consider that there may be something to this hope thing after all.

Like so many Democrats used to disappointment, it was my wife who was chewing through her nails watching this campaign.

"I feel like I got back the life I was supposed to live," she said after America held its collective breath and took a long over-due step forward this Election Day.

Relentless voters, in 2004, we had voted, with vehemence, against George W. Bush.

But in 2008, we voted for someone.

Barack Obama was a candidate who, in the simple title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope," captured the enormity of what he was challenging us to do:
  • Hope and believe that we can move forward together as a nation instead of picking each other apart.
  • Hope and believe again that when challenged, this miracle of a country can rise up once again to prove it can still be greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Hope and believe that even in this cynical age of divide and conquer politics, we can continue to demonstrate to the world and, more importantly, to ourselves, that the promise on which we are founded will continue to be pursued in the belief that it can be realized.
No longer can anyone deny what we were all told as school children and came to doubt as adults, that in America, anyone, anyone can become president.

That is the America I want my son to inhabit.

Mission accomplished.

And in a way, it was accomplished before it happened. Because, while he is pleased with the results, I think he looks at it more like a sports victory, that "our team" won.

The fact that he does not recognize that this result is a landmark on our slow but inexorable march toward true freedom, the fact that he literally sees no reason at all why a black man should not become president, does not diminish the sacrifice of those who made it possible.

But it does mean that sacrifice was not in vain. His generation does not see the difference. And he will now grow up in a country whose full potential has been further unlocked by those sacrifices.

Our course, while this achievement is important, and is worth taking a moment to step back and savor, there's no time for dawdling.

Understanding the value of hope, understanding the value of inspiration and how it can reveal to us what Lincoln so beautifully crystallized as "the angels of our better nature," Obama nevertheless also seems to understand that it takes more than inspiration to govern a country -- especially one in crisis.

We have handed to who was once the most unlikeliest of candidates, the most unenviable of circumstances in which to take office.

He shouldn't be surprised.

To be the first black president, Obama has always seemed to know that to win, he would need to be twice as smart, twice as organized, raise twice as much money and be twice as far ahead in the polls.

His ability to astound us by actually accomplishing this what makes us believe he can tackle our multiple crises.

All of which brings him, and us with him, to that post-victory realization -- now there is an even longer, steeper and rockier race to run.

And so, having been shown that hope can work, I feel compelled to hope again.

I hope that the Democrats in the Congressional majority will learn from this election (and their shameful larding of the pork barrel in the wake of a 2006 campaign waged against corruption), that this time, the change has to be real and the country truly has to be put above their self-interest.

The promise to the people who put set them at the wheel must be fulfilled and the hyper-partisanship of the past be set aside. As the victors, it is incumbent upon the majority to make the first genuine gesture.

The voters have put their faith in the Democrats and they must in turn have faith in turn; that if they make the hard, unpopular decisions, the voters will not punish them at the ballot box.

For if Congress returns to the venal bickering for which they have become reviled, they most certainly will be recalled.

As Lincoln said a year after taking office:"What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing."

And I hope that patriotism will be re-defined to mean not who wears a flag pin on their lapel, but who answers the call of a president smart enough to know he cannot do this alone.

I hope that patriotism will come to mean devotion to the service of our country -- in all forms, from military service to yes, I'll say it, community organizing -- for no other reason than because the need exists.

And most of all, I hope in all ways but the last that our new president will continue to embody the legacy of Lincoln - who taught us so much about what it means to lead, to sacrifice for your country, and the need to forgive and acknowledge the legitimacy those with whom you have so bitterly disagreed.

I hope that he will approach his task as Lincoln described in 1864: "Now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, reunite in a common effort, to save our common country?"
Suddenly, it doesn't seem like too much to hope for.

No comments:

Post a Comment