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Leap of Hope

Well, the voters have spoken and “Hope” trumps a resumé.

What the heck, though, maybe it’ll work out. Sometimes the most effective tool a president has is his ability to inspire, or at least reassure. Aside from prodding the Soviet Union into economic and political collapse, Ronald Reagan’s greatest achievement was pulling America out of a despairing “malaise” and restoring a sense of national pride. JFK’s term had little going for it in the way of concrete accomplishments, but the man himself inspired a culture of optimism and public service that endures to this day. Both have become icons of their parties based as much or more on personal mystique as any political acumen or executive mettle. We are perhaps at a similar crossroads now, where what the nation needs more than anything is an avatar for abstract concepts like “hope” and “possibility.”

Certainly the fact that Barrack Obama won the presidency with support from all races, all ages, all regions, all incomes and both sexes is a nice change from the usual identity politics. I’d like to think it’s more a case of finally giving people something to vote for instead of against, even if what they voted for remains, so far (cross those fingers!) just pretty rhetoric and even though I’m fully aware there are plenty of folks whose only goal was to settle old scores. For my own part, it was nice having an election for once where I didn’t feel I was taking part in a grudge match, and a curiously liberating feeling to wake up on the losing end of an election feeling disappointment but no resentment, anger or, try as I might, panic.

Also heartening, rather counter-intuitively, was the sight of a long line at the polling place I’ve gone to for 14 years now without more than a ten-minute wait. This time the line wrapped around the building, but it moved quickly and efficiently and everyone behaved wonderfully, so I was out in just under one hour. The cynic in me wonders how many of these folks I’ll be seeing again next time, but for now it’s nice just to know so many people made the effort despite the foul weather.

I choose to take comfort from a few encouraging kernels in Obama’s victory speech, among other things this passage:

Let’s remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

Of course, four years ago George W Bush said pretty much the same thing (“Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust.”) And we know how that turned out; sometimes “bipartisan” means BOTH sides hate you.

But I’m not being cynical today, right?

I was also moved by McCain’s concession speech, which I thought went beyond gracious and included this passage:

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.

…and of course:

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

Of course, taking the high road is easy enough when the fight’s over, but maybe I’ve caught the “hope” mania in thinking this time it’s more heartfelt. Or maybe this time it’s just more pragmatism than idealism to acknowledge we’re in over our heads and won’t get anywhere with business as usual in Washington.

I’ve also taken some comfort in an article passed on to me by my dear friend Ray out in Palo Alto, a died-in-the-wool Liberal who proves to me constantly that the “L” word doesn’t have to be a dirty one. In it, Andrew Sullivan offers “Ten Reasons Conservatives Should Vote for Obama,” and while it didn’t sway me at the polls, it at least works as “Ten Reasons Not to Start Wednesday Morning With A Gun In Your Mouth.” Also helpful was an article from the always-terrific Peggy Noonan which pointed out some of the better traits of Obama on display during the election, which remains in large measure the most we’ve got to go on.

My hope is that Obama is sincere in his desire to heal old divides (I’ll forget for a moment George W ran on the same promise: “I want to be a uniter, not a divider”) and that he can leverage his uniquely personal appeal with voters to strong-arm the leaders of the House and Senate from launching an orgy of ideological excesses on the theory America has “mandated” a shift to far left. Hopefully they’ve paid enough attention in the last few years to see where that attitude got their Republican colleagues.

My fear, on the other hand, is that what is “centrist” to Obama is extremist to anyone else. If so, we’re looking at four more years of Congressional in-fighting as an ultra-liberal agenda is stymied by GOP stonewalling, keeping us voters in our role of passengers on a still-sinking ship as the crew fight amongst themselves.

Again with the cynicism. Sorry. The truth is I’m pleasantly unmoved by the whole thing at the moment. Sure, I’m disappointed my guy didn’t win, but not as upset as I thought I might be, and certainly not as much as some of my family (especially Laura, who understands finance, so maybe I should be more worried). For the moment at least I’m hopeful this new guy will turn out to be as advertised. What the heck, with no evidence either way in his past, it’s just as likely he’ll be up to it as not, right? Hope springs eternal. Anyway, the country has two months to bask in the limitless possibilities of what might be. In January we’ll start seeing what we’ve actually got.

God bless the USA and the president-elect, and good luck to us all, red and blue.

P.S. – To anyone who feels they’re oversaturated with politics during an election, I offer this advice: have a baby. You’d be surprised how much TV, internet and print reporting you’ll escape when you’re burping, diapering, feeding or otherwise mollifying a crying infant. Of course you won’t get any more sleep than if you’d read the political blogs around the clock, but you will at least come to love the face of even your ideological opposite, if only because adult sentences are coming out of it. And when it’s all over, even if you lose, you still have a baby to hug, so how bad can it be?

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