Monday, January 19, 2009

This Moment in History: Obama Inauguration/ MLK Day

Jamie, Lucy and I spent some time this weekend watching CNN footage of the inaugural activities going on in Washington DC.

It's tough to listen to the endless stream of superlatives and attempts by the commentators to repeatedly remind viewers of the historical significance of Obama's inauguration without feeling that it's just a portion of the significance. A vast portion, to be sure, but it does seem that it's almost forgetting the campaign and messages Barack Obama shared which lead to his election. It's not that I'm not aware of the fact that we have a changing of the guard, or that Obama is African-American. I get all that, and I get the historical significance of what it means for the character of the U.S. that the generations that would never have seen or allowed a man of Obama's racial make-up and background to ascend to the White House have either fallen away or have had a change of mind and heart.

These are things to celebrate, and, of course, its fitting that the inauguration would fall on the day following the national holiday celebrating Dr. King's message and legacy.

Before its forgotten, Obama wasn't elected or not elected because of race (although I do not want to dismiss the meaning for the U.S.). I would posit that he was elected because of the ideas that Barack Obama brought to the campaign trail.

I could appreciate that Obama's first volley was to reject big money donors to the campaign and rely mostly upon the smaller contributions of individuals. Sure, there were days when I thought that if I got one more e-mail from the campaign, I was going to scream, but rather than wondering what Obama would feel he owed certain contributors once in office, I knew what Obama was at least attempting to do by letting thousands have their voice rather than the needs of large donors. And, I could appreciate the make-or-break nature of such a plan, right up to the requests for donations to support the inaugural balls rather than having the Exxon Inaugural Ball, what have you...

If we're serious about government for the people, by the people, then I can get behind a person who has the vision to try to run their campaign by having faith in their supporters as much as possible. While they're important, I can believe in a candidate who recognizes that corporations are not people, and a politican who would rather be financially supported by thousands of individuals who believe in him than by behemoth groups looking for a quid pro quo.

There are also Obama's stances on international engagement, use of military force, health care, education and more that were welcome changes (and Senator Clinton reflected many of those same stances, so my choice making was made difficult). All of these things were incredibly important to me as a I selected my candidate of choice, and only rarely did I see Obama need to shift his message of plan for any of these issues. And I hope that Obama will work with Congress, and Congress with Obama to implement the messages put forth during the long, long campaign season.

The economy is an enormous issue, and I've appreciated Obama's straightforward discussion of what America faces in the months leading up to the inauguration. No one would envy Obama the challenges facing him as he steps into the Oval Office, and I will be watching closely to see what plans he and Congress cook up. It's my sincere hope that partisanship will only serve to craft refined economic plans as each party keeps the other honest. (I also hope for more in the way of job-creation rather than merely propping up crumbling financial empires, but that's just me).

The underlying tone of the enthusiasm one sees on cable news isn't just for a certain person to come into the presidency, but a hope and faith placed into Obama as a sign that the status quo of politics in the U.S. has the potential for change at this moment. While anyone over the age of 22 is probably jaded enough to know only so much can change, we can ask for President Obama to not fall prey to the partisanship of the past 20 or more years, political dynasties, what have you... to work in service to all Americans and not the implied oligarchy of "those who know what's best for you" that we've seen during such a huge swath of my lifetime. Or politicians who are admired for how they game the system rather than for their policies and how they lead.

But a lot of what Obama has promised has not been a change that he can carry on his own. The motto, after all was "Yes, we can", not "Your government has got it covered". So I find it fitting that the day before Obama is inaugurated, we find ourselves honoring the leadership of Dr. King and his quest for racial harmony and social justice. But MLK Day isn't just a bank and postal holiday, but also a day of service and remembering. No official can successfully lead by asking for their citizenry to remain unengaged or place their fates into the hands of their leaders without thought. Obama's calls for engagement in our community will need to be heeded, and already I'm getting e-mails from the First Lady asking for my service. And, honestly, its giving me a moment of pause. What can I do? Am I the change I wish to see?

Will we blame Obama when we, ourselves, fail? What can we do to ensure not that Obama succeeds, but that America succeeds?

Everything leading up to 12:00 Eastern tomorrow has been nothing but a prelude. We do not know what the future holds, or what compromises Obama will find himself in as he sits down with his cabinet this first week. Inevitably, the cheering throngs will decide (perhaps one by one) that Obama has disappointed them somehow as personal agendas go unaddressed, as congress stalls in pushing through reforms, laws, policy...

But we do have a choice under new leadership, and a leadership that has been fairly clear in that it is a "we". Americans need to remember that asking for a vote is asking for very little. "Yes, we can" is not just a call to show up at the polls, but a promise that we'll do better.

I'm celebrating the 43rd peaceful transition of power, of a hope for a better tomorrow, and for what it means to have this person at this time stepping into the position to be the face of America. I don't want to diminish the resonance that MLK Day has so close to the election, but to celebrate the sort of person who we've chosen to lead us, perhaps based not upon the color of his skin, but upon the content of his character.

Edit: By the way, while I was writing this, President-Elect Obama and Michelle Obama announced the USA Service website.

4 comments:

tachyonshuggy said...

I am so incredibly sick of Obama. I'm now super creeped-out by all the Obama shit everywhere.

The man has captured the Zeitgeist, but so have The Hills and Vitamin Water.

Steanso said...

Ah, the inevitable Obama backlash begins.... now we just have to sit back and wait for history to be revised as all the conservatives try to tell us that Bush didn't do such a bad job after all.

Simon Mac Donald said...

Hope...it's one word but it symbolizes the thoughts and dreams of a country, nay the world. I fervently hope that he can help change the world in a positive way. I will be pulling for him as I sit on my duff.

The League said...

A couple of points

1) This is a pretty good example of why its helpful to know who is writing in. I've known tachyonshuggy for years and, while I don't necessarily agree in whole, I am familiar enough with him to understand his viewpoint.

2) With all due respect to firend and colleague tachyonshuggy, while Bush never capitalized on merchandising, you can imagine my feelings on seeing the man elected and re-elected four times as governor and president as he, too, captured the national zeitgeist.

3) I am not a fan of how Obama's success has been treated like a successful product launch or a movie opening, but in this day and age, I am not sure our media knows how else to handle it.

What I dislike most about it has been the fawning celebrity of the man and sweeping statements regarding the mood of the country, which elected him, yes... But not exactly in a 1984-Reagean-esque landslide.

As I hope I made clear in my post, I am happy to see what I consider a generational change in leadership in Obama's presidency, of the passing of the Boomers and their elders, but I am also deeply wary of what happens when people realize Obama is a man with responsibilities and not a magical elf sent to turn the US into planet full of unicorns that will see every item of their agenda fulfilled.

Obama has stated repeatedly that he plans to be the president for everyone, and not for special interests or any particular segment of the population. I imagine many will find that disappointing.