Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Yes We Will
January 20th, 2009
Tuesday Morning, 1:00 AM
I knew who I was going to cast my 2008 Presidential vote for way back in January of 2007, about two full years before this exact moment. See, I was on vacation with my Uncle, whom I have written about extensively on this blog (I wonder what Sigismund Schlomo Freud would have to say about that), visiting my family and cousins in Ireland, getting a much needed mental break. When I travel overseas, which I do about twice a year thanks to my wife's family retiring to Italy, I like to get away from the computers and TVs and I like to "shut it down". Generally I take a handful of books with me and catch up on some much needed reading. The only constant from the wired world was my iPod and my music.
During that delightful trip, which was filled with great family, friends, pints, laughs and soul searching, I read then Senator Barack Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope". Someone gave it to me as a Christmas gift a month before and I was looking forward to the read. I watched Obama give speeches that fall and I saw him perform his day job in the Senate on CSPAN. I was drawn to his wit, his mind and the words he chose during those discussion of ideas. Prior to the fall of 2006, I watched the Junior Senator give a motivating speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I was moved by his request for not a "Red or Blue" but for a United America. Good stuff I thought. Finally someone was saying this out loud.
I stood up for him a month before my trip to Ireland while I was at a Christmas party in a "swing-state". I watched in awe as people and friends questioned his religious beliefs, his family background and the color of his skin. I was shocked at what I heard that night and knew that if I was going to vote for Barack Obama, I would need to support this man, his cause and my beliefs. I would also need to study this person like I studied Jefferson and Lincoln and Nixon in my Political Science classes. I would need to debate his politics, his philosophies and truly see if they matched with my thinking. Most importantly I realized that I would need to be prepared to defend this man and his principles against worse then what some uninformed voters at a Christmas party had to throw at me.
I found his book to be an enjoyable read. I learned about his family, that he had two daughters (like myself), that he was raised by his Mother and his Grandparents (my Grandfather lived with me for the first 11 years of my life), that he was a self-made man (like myself, no nepotism to feast off of) and he had exceptional education credentials (he has me beat there). I read about how he strives to work an issue from both sides of the political perspective and how he would seek out his adversaries advice. Obama came across as young (not really he is 47), energetic, with fresh new ideas, driven and damn was he a solid writer. Don't get me wrong, "The Audacity of Hope" wasn't "Ulysses", but at least it wasn't written with the acknowledgment of a ghost writer.
What surprised me the most about Obama on that trip wasn't his book, it was the fact that my European family knew about him and they knew more about him then my "swing-state" comrades from the Christmas party. Maybe it was because while I was over there a report came out in the Irish press that Obama's family tree and its roots reached back to the great Emerald Isle. His last name wasn't Kennedy mind you, but in the papers they rewrote his last name as O'Bama. Have to love that Irish wit.
My Irish family was impressed by what they saw from him to date. They also told me on that trip that they needed America back. They needed us to restore what was once great about our land, its people, our way of life and what it stood for. They wanted to "believe" in America again. The wanted to believe in the America of Clinton (Irish blood), Reagan (Irish blood) and JFK (more Irish blood then the other two combined). Most of all they wanted the America of FDR and Teddy and Lincoln and Washington. They wanted "change", even before we as Americans came to terms with what that would mean. That book, my knowledge of the man to that point and the endorsement of my Irish family, gave me the confidence I needed to go home and get involved in what I believed in. When I got home I made my first donation to the Obama campaign and started to talk to my family and friends about what I knew about the man.
I started on my Uncle first on the trip and then worked my Sister right out of the gates when I landed. See, I grew up in a family that talked politics openly. My Father and Mother would get my Sister and I involved in the discourse and educate us on due process. I didn't realize this was out of the norm until I got into a heated discussion with a then girlfriend's father over the Iran-Contra affair. Not a good move. Don't spout off without being informed. Lesson learned, time to move on and its new girlfriend time.
I turned the corner on family and friends around the same time Obama started to turn his own corner in the campaign. It was after he won Iowa and lost New Hampshire, the "Yes We Can" speech. Even after that crushing loss we (my Sister and I) were able to persuade my Mother to get behind her children and our cause. That was a big one. I mean she was right in the wheelhouse for both Hillary and McCain as far as demographics go. But to her credit, Mom saw something in her children that she had not seen for 40 plus years. She saw a desire and commitment to a candidate like she had for JFK 48 years before. She knew that this election was not about a political brand name, she saw that this was for my children, her grandchildren, their future and the idea of America. She was my case-study of one and with that win; I had the wind at my back. At least that is what I started to "believe".
From there I started to volunteer for the campaign (which I had never done before), registering voters for that before mentioned swing-state, knocking on doors to both Dem and Repub voters making sure they were registered in New Jersey, having grown men curse at me for my choice of candidate, having a woman cry to me about how she could not pay her medical bills, going to house meetings to talk to other supports, brainstorm how to turn a traditionally red county into a blue one and to remind like minded voters to vote on November 4th. This was not like watching a football game and Monday Morning Quarterbacking after a loss. This was real life. If I wanted to complain, win or lose, I was not going to sit on the sidelines again. I became part of the process. I was involved. This time I could not complain if my team didn't win. I tried and in perfect sports cliche fashion, I left it all out on the field. Funny thing is, many, MANY, people felt the same way that I did and did something/anything about it.
The score came in, my team won, the Monday Morning QBs called it a landslide. A lot happened along the way that I didn't mention, we all watched it, we saw all the plays from "That One", to Tina Fey, to "...the fundamentals of the economy are strong", to Letterman being pissed, to Rev. Wright, to Billary to "Mission Accomplished" to Trig to "The Bailout" to canceling the campaign to boring debates to rousing speeches to gracious concessions to $150,000 shopping sprees. It was all there, we watched, read and lived it for over a year (some of us for two).
But what now?
Well, if the past 2 months has been any indication, we should be in for a different type of Administration then we have become accustomed too. For the past two months our President-Elect has been acting rather Presidential. And that is a good thing. On paper he has been putting together a solid staff, much like his predecessor had 8 years before, he has been working both side of the political spectrum, like our fortieth President, Ronald Reagan did and he has been wooing the media and International press, much like our thirty-fifth President Kennedy and his wife were known to do.
But today we need more then talk and rousing speech and photo ops. As our most recent President Bush found out first hand, it is the unexpected that challenges a people and a country. Attacks on our homeland by natural or unnatural causes challenge us to the core. Attacks on our ways and means and goods and services and banking systems can leave an impact on ones legacy and it can cripple a country's collective plans for retiring into the sunset. To each man, woman and child, we have a ton of work to do and we can only do this together, because we are all in this together. We need action by the people and leadership from both sides of the political paradigm to make this work and for us to rebound. Obama can not do this alone. If McCain won he would not be able to do this alone. Red and Blue have to become the United for this to happen.
As JFK said to students at American University the summer before he was assassinated in a speech about peace, which could be applied to the divisiveness in our own country today:
So, let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.
Think about that for a second. Let it sink in. Safe for diversity (check, we know the significance of today and how our American Civil War truly ends today with the swearing in of a half white, half black man), we all cherish our children's future (check, we know that with every dollar the TARP burns down that it will be our children feeling the burden of our financial sins), we are all mortal (check, time is limited, it is short, we have to act now because no one knows what tomorrow brings).
I was reading this morning that the President-Elect has an 83% approval rating before he even steps into office. Only really one place to go from there and that is down. Ask President Bush who is walking out with a 22% approval rating or lack there of, about how hard this job is. Does he care about this country? Of course he does. But how much do we care about unity in this county? What is our approval rating as a collective people? What do we stand for when the times are difficult and our funds are lower then they have been in decades and when unemployment or most importantly unemployment and forced part-time employment is over 10% and at a 20 year high? Is it the job of one person to take care of 300 million? No. We all have personal responsibility. We all have skin in this game of life. We all have a voice.
I suspect we will hear a great deal about personal responsibility today and rightfully so. I suspect we will hear for a call in service both home and aboard and in our community and in the battlefields of the Middle-East. I suspect that about 83% of us will be swept up in the significance of and or the moment. I suspect that Wednesday will come and day 99 will begin for the President and his approval rating will go down to 81% and maybe even slip to 80% by the weekend. I also suspect and have hope that something magical will happen today. I want to feel something today and I think I will. Will you?
I keep reflecting back to the night of November 4th when I saw people dancing in the streets, in New York and LA and in Chicago and in London and Paris and Sydney and Africa and I bet in Donegal, Ireland where my family lives. Think about that, there were people dancing in the streets when a President won an election. I am still amazed by that, I never saw that before. People were dancing for their children's future, dancing to believe in America again, they were dancing for the barriers that were brought down that day, dancing for diversity, dancing for hope and dreams and all dancing on this small planet, breathing that same air. And again today the world and a country, which is pretty mortal right now, will be watching. And you know what, I can't wait for what happens next, because we will show the world, like we have in the past, that when the chips are down and when the going gets tough, America can and Yes We Will, rise again.