Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Obama's election

"In a new historical era, I look forward to taking our bilateral relationship of constructive co-operation to a new level."

He just feels too deeply. That's Hu's problem.

You can read more reactions from world leaders here.

I would especially point to the quote by European Commission Chief Jose Manuel Barroso:
This is a time for a renewed commitment between Europe and the United States of America. We need to change the current crisis into a new opportunity. We need a new deal for a new world.

I sincerely hope that with the leadership of President Obama, the United States of America will join forces with Europe to drive this new deal - for the benefit of our societies, for the benefit of the world.

I find it telling that Barroso conjures up the image of FDR and The New Deal, and completely understandable. Perhaps Obama's situation is different from that of FDR (history buffs will no doubt come up with a million ways in which I am wrong), but there are certain parallels, and certain challenges which are much the same. A spiralling economy, a world which seems on the tip of global conflict.

FDR did not live to see the conclusion of the war or the prosperity which followed. But he did live to see his policies and programs help his fellow Americans (my own grandfather supported his family with, I believe, NYA work). But I guess the point is that he used his position to try to prop up the economy on both macro and micro-levels, and perhaps we can learn from that.

He was also a great friend to Allied Europe (obviously), and understood international cooperation, and negotiation. Including doing as good a job as I guess one could have done working with a crackpot like Stalin in order to achieve victory in Europe and Japan.

If Barroso is hoping for another FDR... Well, let's give it a few months before we start calling the man a failure.

But he's also asking that Obama, America and perhaps Europe see opportunity in our current multiple crises. Opportunity, one assumes, to not go back to what led us into these messes in the first place, but a way back out. That perhaps with that whole "leader of the free world" tag comes some responsibility to act the part.

Of course, all of this is academic until January, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be paying close attention to what the President-elect begins to line up for that first hundred days.

I don't want to come across as a negative nelly, but I think since my ill-fated Nader vote, I'm usually fairly pragmatic about politics (but maybe not my ideals). I stumbled across this article by an historian discussing the inevitable disappointment in Obama as he attempts to tackle the challenges ahead and is unable to magically create 100K-earning jobs, free energy and unicorns to cart children to wizard school.

Here you go.

I am reminded of the Clintons' attempts to re-design healthcare, and the roadblocks tossed in their way by their own party. Or Bush's attempts to outsource social programs, etc... Sometimes, things just don't happen.

Obama is in a good place. He carried a lot of people in with him on his coattails. Hopefully Pelosi and Co. can do more with the next two years than the past two they've sort of squandered, and/ or done things that were expedient rather than wise.

But its also a narrow window. Clinton was in office for a short period before Newt and Co. rode into town with their Contract with America, creating a voting majority with a very different agenda from his own. I wouldn't encourage the same monarchy-in-all-but-name status Bush enjoyed from 2001-2006 as both houses rolled over for the man, but no doubt its going to be less of a deadlock than one might see with legislative and executive branches bumping heads.

When you boil it down, I'm not feeling celebratory. Today I'm feeling pretty sober about the responsibilities handed to President-Elect Obama.

I'm not one of those people who says "Gee, this is the toughest time humanity ever had it", because, really... we're humanity. The way we treat each other is abysmal and we're generally our own biggest enemy unless you want to talk influenza or marauding bears or something. Losing value in your house sucks, but not as much as, say, the Black Plague or the Spanish Inquisition. It feels big because it is.

But we are sitting on a pile of pickles right now that it'd be handy if we could sort them out without bankrupting the nation or causing a 2000 year vendetta war. What's key is that we pick a direction (a new direction, because, seriously...) and go with it, while being agile and wise enough to change course when what we're doing isn't working. And a person who will see their role and service as a privileged responsibility.

We won't know until our President-Elect takes office.

But I am optimistic. That's the value of change, in many ways. It provides an opportunity (there's that word again) for progress rather than trying to trying to merely maintain the status quo. Especially when you're looking at a whole big pile of pickles awaiting you on Day 1 of the new job.

What I was glad Obama called out (and which I'm not sure was heard, but, you know dude's gotta try) was that he needs for the citizenry to step it up. He won't be able to do this alone. He asked for service and sacrifice, something we have an odd relationship with in the US (and I do, in particular).

Going beyond the rhetoric, can a person inspire others to greater deeds?


J.S. said...

I think Obama can be successful, but he needs to manage expectations and keep people realistic. I found it telling that right from his first moments as president elect, in his victory address (and, heck, to a small extent even in his speeches before he became president, as with his acceptance of the Democratic nomination) he tried to caution people that change would not occur overnight, and that it would take the cooperative will of the American people to bring change about.
And I think people CAN be inspired to contribute and facilitate the change they seek. FDR did it, John f. Kennedy did it, and even Bill Clinton did it (we're still benefitting from programs like The Peace Corps, Head Start, Americorps, etc.). Obama has the email addresses of millions of supporters, and he needs to continue to try to call on them and keep them in the loop as he moves forward. People feel more reassured when they have an active role to play.
Anyway, Obama is doing things in new ways. I have a feeling that he's going to continue to surprise some people.

The League said...

Well said.

A while back I remember you and I talking about FDR's fireside chats (or did I dream that?) and how folks tended to ignore CLinton's radio addresses, and neither of us knew if Bush even had a weekly address.

But that e-mail chain could possibly act in the same manner to get people motivated. We'll see.

JAL said...

If he was a talking celery stalk and smoking a pipe while Lucy was being chased by action verbs it might have been a dream. Dream or peyote.

The League said...

Well last night I dreamed I was at Jason's house taking care of his dog because Jason had to leave abruptly to take care of some out of town emergency.

In the dream he had left out this huge plate full of cream cheese and all of this cooked meat everywhere, and I was standing in his kitchen fuming that (a) I was going to have to clean this up, (b) Cassidy could have gotten into the cream cheese, and (c) Jason was eating whole plates of cream cheese and piles of meat.

It was a very frustrating dream, but Cassidy was very well behaved in said dream.