Thursday, November 06, 2008

Barack Obama for President in '09

I've got some news for you, and you may be shocked. You see, Barack Obama's our President.

No, really.

I'm not sure whether you heard it or not, since it was hard to make it out over all the shouts and sounds of celebration. It may have been an election of epic proportions, as it seems a large portion of the population would be gathering along Pennsylvania Avenue to spread palm branches in his path as he rode to his inauguration on a donkey's colt. Meanwhile, in other locations, there would be a weeping and gnashing of teeth as people stood by to witness the abomination of desolation.

See, this is exactly the sort of thing that's been bothering me for so long, and I'm afraid it's not going to stop now that the election's over. It's been so long since we had a "normal" election, that I think we forgot what it was like. John McCain's concession speech was quite moving and humble, but a speech like that should be the norm. Politicians like McCain and Obama must live in the eye of the storm, where there is calm enough that they can actually graciously bow out of a race or accept victory. How many people were surprised and disappointed when John Kerry conceded after only a day of waiting, rather than fighting it out over weeks like we did in 2000? In the age we live in of electronic counting of votes, there should rarely be a reason that elections take more than 24 hours. This Election Day went satisfyingly smoothly, like that refreshing beer that most people would probably enjoy sharing with their candidate, but not the other. (Side note for those who still think Barack Obama is a Muslim: I thought he should have dispelled rumors by being photographed eating pork, but he was photographed drinking alcohol, which wasn't enough for some. No matter.)

I myself would probably enjoy sharing a beer with either candidate, or even President Bush, despite our differences in politics. Maybe that's my problem; that I don't try and divide people into who I'd enjoy being around and who I wouldn't. I've commented many times before actually that while I strongly despise what Osama bin Laden stands for, I suspect he's rather friendly and personable on a one-on-one basis, since he's only human. All of these people are only human. They're just people. To quote from C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian:

"You come from Lord Adam and Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content."
Whether you believe in the story of Adam and Eve, whether or not you're of any particular religious persuasion, I think this is a deep truth, and one we need to apply to all of our leaders, as well as our aspiring leaders. We're all just human beings.

There's a lot of talk about the fact that Obama is now our first black President, and what an historic moment it is. This is definitely true, but I think there's something to be said about it after we savor the moment as simply a moment. A pundit on television election night made an interesting observation as he was talking with an elderly black gentleman who had been involved with the struggles for racial equality in the '50s and '60s. I don't remember his exact words, and not being connected to the Internet as I write this, I can't look them up, but he said something like, "The really great thing about this transition point in history is that unlike similar transitions in the past, there was not so much of a struggle, but simply an acceptance of it. This was the act of approval by the whole country." Yes, unlike the desegregation of our schools, our places of business, and our professional sports, which largely had to be forced, the desegregation of that exclusive 44-member club came about with about as much conflict as any other inauguration (although the actual inauguration is still two months to come).

Really, this should be no surprise on at least one level. Sure, if you want to make sure there are people of certain races in the local school, you can endeavor to force them to go there, and force those who don't want them there to accept them, albeit begrudgingly. It is, however, the nature of a democratically-elected office that you can't force this one, so of course it happened peacefully. There may indeed have been people who voted for Obama because he's black, but I doubt the number that voted for him specifically for that reason was high. Speaking for myself, I would never vote for Al Sharpton, nor would I vote for Clarence Thomas (were he to run), but it has nothing to do with their race and everything to do with their politics. It's simply the case that given the current political climate, Obama was more palatable than McCain to a majority of voters.

In some ways, it's this matter-of-fact-ness that I see as the reason we have to let this moment pass. Yes, it's a great day in our history, but it still has potential to be a dismal four years. Obama is still just another politician; I have high hopes for his term in office, but like everyone who has gone before, he will disappoint us. Not all the time; hopefully not even much of the time; but certainly some of the time.

See, that feeling so many of us feel that is seen as a moment of triumph has great potential to become a moment of sorrow. Every time we look at Obama and say, "Look at how great our President is doing...and he's black!" we give an open invitation for his detractors to say at other times "Look at how terrible our President is doing...and he's black!" Is that what we want?

I'll mention Asimov's biography again, as I've been doing ever since I read it. A Jewish friend once came to Asimov (who is likewise from a Jewish background) and said, "I'm really proud that an inordinately large number of Nobel laureates are Jewish!" Asimov replied, "Did you know that an inordinately large number of pornographic film producers and directors are Jewish?" The man was stunned. "Is that true?" he asked. Asimov replied, "I made it up, but it could be true. How would you feel if it was?"

The point here is, if you're going to take everything Obama does in his life and put it in the mental sorting bin of "African-American achievements", then you're going to have to put his failures there, too, and he will have them. George W. Bush has left behind more than a few messes to clean up that simply won't be pretty no matter what the resolution. In inheriting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, history will put part of the blame for the aftermath of those wars on Obama's shoulders. Do you think a really happy ending is likely there? Do you think it's unthinkable that yet another war might begin while Obama is in office? Contrary to the beliefs of some (and such beliefs I find offensive, even as a Democrat who is no fan of the Bush presidency), the 9/11 attacks were on our country as a whole, not on any particular administration. If al-Qaeda strikes again in the next four years, don't think Obama will fail to respond with some sort of military action.

But I'm getting off track. I think Obama is going to be a good President, maybe the best we've had since Kennedy, but we really can't know how things will turn out, can we? As a T-shirt slogan I saw on the Internet said in reference to Obama, "Dare to hope. Prepare to be disappointed." I think it was referring to the election, but really, we should have an attitude like that about the next four years.

Barack Obama is just another President, and compared to some people it makes me a pessimist (compared to many others, it makes me an optimist, of course) to believe that the next four years will just be a fairly run-of-the-mill time period. But think about it, all you Obama true believers and hopers: in comparison to the last eight years, wouldn't "run-of-the-mill" be a great improvement? I, for one, welcome it.

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