Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope and Change

I'm delaying my discussion of Braid. Given my recent run of broken promises, nobody should be surprised. On this day, there are simply bigger things to talk about.

Barack Obama is beyond big. and I've been waiting to write on him for a while now. In fact, I considered beginning this blog on election night, November 4th 2008, with a discussion of his victory. Ultimately, I decided against it, partially because I was so caught up in the thrills of the evening, but also because I was intimidated by it's sheer momentousness. Aside from questions of where to start or what could be contributed, I was afraid that the inevitable vacuum of the event's historical mass would place my blog, and my voice into a narrowly political category. I never wanted to be apolitical either though. It's a futile endeavor which produces feckless writing. Now that Sarcasmancy has had a chance to spread it's wings a little bit, I think it's finally safe to indulge in political tendencies.

Like most self-described liberals, I was appalled and enraged by the Bush administration, and like you'd expect from a writer, it was his administration's rhetoric which I found most offensive: Culturally xenophobic speeches suggesting, in the tradition of the frontier cowboy (a figure that should have gone extinct over a century ago), that real men don't solve problems with diplomacy and any attempts at compromise or gestures of contrition are signs of weakness. Punctuated with folksy mispronunciations and hollow Christian invocations, these shortsighted declarations were carefully calculated to sustain and even cultivate the very terror they claimed to combat. Bush's scheming handlers found an opportunity in fear. To them, a scared nation willing to sacrifice everything to save itself from phantoms was a delightful prospect. Something which could be mined and muled without complaint. Perhaps, Credence Clearwater Revival described the situation best:

"And when you ask them, how much should we give?
Ooh, they only answer more! more! more!"

I honestly cannot conceive a more appealing and appropriate counter point to this than the idealism and eloquence Barack Obama has displayed throughout his presidential campaign. I thought very highly of John McCain before he consented to run with Sarah Pallin; an avatar of everything I despised about the former party. Regardless of how confident McCain was in his health, anyone willing to risk the nation with a second in command so painfully inexperienced is not fit to lead it himself.

I sigh and digress. It was not my intention to continue bitching about the past eight years when they are now finally past us. The sad truth is, it is far too easy to fall prey to old habits, and the incentives for being a bigger man are small indeed. After a victory, the desire to celebrate is natural. The desire to be gracious, when you fear your opponent will misconstrue your celebration as gloating, regardless of how you conduct yourself...well, not so much. I honestly can't blame the republicans for their cynicism though. If I were a disappointed conservative who listened to liberals complain about how my ideals were ruining the country throughout the entire election, the sudden calls for unification would ring falsely indeed.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Instead of continuing to rant, I will do my best to describe the promise I saw in Barack Obama's inauguration today in such a way that others may share in my optimism. For me, The single most gratifying line I heard in Obama's entire speech was the line "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." We cannot afford to damn ourselves in order to fight the demons. At the end of the day, there are just more demons to go around. I find Obama's promise to close the guantanamo bay detention facility (look at the end of the entry) with an executive order during his first week of office to be extremely uplifting. Even if you believe that desperate times justify dark measures, you'd be hard pressed to admit they were good things to do, and the fact that such despicable practices are behind us is something to be glad about. We are not loosing anything here. The breakable prisoners have been broken by this point, so there is no potential information being forfeited, nor is there any risk of potential villains escaping justice, no matter how hastily the closure is executed. These people will be kept on tight leashes; they just won't be whipped with them anymore.

That being said, I hope Obama takes all the time he needs with the transition. A lot of evidence can be conveniently lost in a transitional period. The temptation to rush will be difficult to resist too. After all the speeches and promises made about change, not just by the official campaign, but by supporters and everyday citizens, my biggest worry for the new administration is it's own impossible hype. When the liberal messiah fails to solve global warming, gaza and the energy crisis within his first week, the press is going to crucify him. Liberals are going to start presenting pithy anecdotes which are only tenuously related to the shift in political climate and try to present them as proof that change has come. Here is a personal example of 'a false change story' from my personal life:

"After spending another weekend wrestling with illness, and caring for my girlfriend, who has now also come down with a wretched contagion of her own, I showed up for school today exhausted and completely unprepared for my history quiz. But when I arrived at the classroom door, I was greeted by a note stating that class was canceled and the quiz had been postponed until Thursday. There wasn't any explanation, but I'm sure it had something to do with the inauguration. Boom! My life is already better for Obama. Change has come!"

Such stories are heartwarming, humorous and harmless as long as you appreciate the irony of the situation: the real change Obama has been promising is not the sort of thing which will arrive in an instant and affect a single day of your life. It will be gradual and require a lot of hardwork, but it's effects will be tremendous. If people present such meager epiphanies as proof of a promise fulfilled, we will have cheapened that promise. The truth to the story's joke, for all jokes are a blend of truths and ironies, is that change must begin with one's personal perspective.

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