Seems like yesterday…
November 5th, 2008
To my sons:
Yesterday something amazing happened. We knew it would happen, and got to watch it happen over a very long period of time, but its still amazing.
Yesterday Barack Hussein Obama won the election to become our next President. And that is amazing. At 7 and 4 years of age, you don’t care much, and you may not care much when the next election comes around either, but I assure you it was amazing.
Our country is in a tough spot right now. Financial markets seized up a few months ago, banks are going under around the world. Money itself stopped flowing anywhere in the world for 48 hrs. People everywhere are losing their jobs and the stock market seems destined for a very low, dark place. People are losing their life savings, giant automakers and insurance companies tremble, and war rages far away in places many Americans still have not heard of, let alone can pronounce.
We have become a fearful nation, a cynical nation. So fearful we started wars in Iraq under false pretenses. So fearful we have traded our civil liberties for safety. So fearful we now torture people with the legal blessing of the current Presidential administration. So fearful we have opened king’s dungeons in Cuba, to toss “enemies” into, never to be seen or heard from again.
Cynicism about the world around us, the structures of power around us, our media, our corporations, our fellow citizens, but most of all our government and our representatives up until the election seemed on their way to becoming a permanent fixture of the future too.
Worse somehow is the scorn the rest of world holds for us. Our promise and reputation, always far greater in self-regard, is now squandered. We have no friends abroad anymore, simply allies of convenience.
Like I said, it isn’t pretty.
But something interesting happened in 2007. A little-known US Senator from Illinois cast his hat into the ring on a frosty day in Springfield, IL. I watched that speech that day, and while I was moved by his words and passion, my own cynicism led me to mutter “good luck buddy” when he was finished, the deck was so stacked against him.
Why is that you ask?
Well, maybe things are different now that you’ve grown, but up until 2008, the idea of a black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama winning the presidency was a pretty novel idea. It just wasn’t done. His opponent, Hillary Clinton was supposed to become the first female President. That was the history that was supposed to be made in 2008.
What was interesting from the get-go was how Obama seemed to transcend cynicism. He spoke of lofty ideals again, and seemed to mean them. He challenged people to become better citizens, better people. But he actually sounded like he meant it.
What did he get in response? Scorn for his naivete. Speculation about his faith. Speculation about his birth country. Speculation about his motives. Accusations about sympathizing with terrorists, racism, fear-mongering. The more hopeful he sounded, the worse the attacks got.
Somehow our better natures prevailed and he won in sweeping fashion, promising to end the dark deeds that stain our reputation, to fix the broken economy, heck even to combat climate change! The Republican party was decimated in the Congressional races and has to figure out what to do now that it is minority party, a small party with a history of mis-management and mis-deeds, blood on its hands.
So what now? What happens next? This particular President faces incredibly daunting challenges that no other president, save Lincoln or FDR has had to face, maybe more so. But maybe, just maybe our better nature that was revealed on November 4th, 2008 will last a while longer. Maybe this is our turning point. Maybe now that everything is broken we’ll rise to the occasion.
Hope and Change does sound a little naive in the cold light of morning. My hangover doesn’t help either. But maybe, just maybe if enough of hope and enough of us change, we’ll get this big old boat slowly turned in the right direction, away from the icebergs.
In four years I’ll look back on this letter and we’ll see how far we’ve come, if at all. In 20 years the history books may not be kind to President Obama.
But at least for one night, a skinny bi-racial kid from Hawaii and Chicago with a funny name that was raised by a single mom got elected President of the United States. If he can do it, maybe all of us are capable of a lot more.
And that’s pretty amazing.