I am right now listening to the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
On this weekend’s This American Life, reporters traveled around the country to get reactions to Obama’s eminent presidency. There were fewer negative reactions than I expected. One journalist put it: “No candidate would run on a slogan of ‘cautiously optimistic,’ but that seems to be a common feeling.” (or something like that. I’m definitely paraphrasing.) He was talking about people who voted against Obama, but who, instead of raging and expressing fear, are taking a “wait and see” approach.
I voted for Obama, and I’ve been an Obama supporter from the beginning of the primaries, but I think “cautiously optimistic” is a good description of how I’m feeling right now. I’ve been pessimistic about the state of this country, about the direction of this country for so long, that it’s hard to believe in the possibility of change. I do believe that today will be the beginning of a more positive turn for the United States, but I think there are many many people who are going to be disappointed.
An Obama presidency does not mean an end of racism. It does not mean the end of politics. It is not the end of lobbyists, of ignorance, of greed. Obama will not, with a shake of his magic pen, fix the economy.
George W Bush stole power for the executive branch while simultaneously dancing the steps of a puppet king. He showed how easy it is to move backwards, when we all know how difficult it is to go forward. Progress is like a diet. Policies that have taken decades to implement can be erased in weeks.
Obama has a hard road ahead of him, and the reserved part of my optimism is due not to Obama, but because of our government’s general inability to get anything done. Our government is DESIGNED to move at the speed of sludge, this is a built in protection to keep people from making radical changes before we can throw them out. Right now though, we need movement, and we need it quickly.
Here is why I voted for Obama. The most inspirational thing Obama said during his campaign is that we cannot depend on HIM to change our country, we have to do it ourselves. In the tradition of our best presidents, Obama has invited us to take responsibility for our country instead of whining about it. For the first time since high school, I’m actually thinking about what kind of volunteering I might like to do. For the first time ever, I’m thinking about how I might get into politics.
Many people sighted Obama’s inexperience as a reason not to vote for him, but I see it as a good thing. Here is a man who is eager to move, who maybe doesn’t know all the rules of the game yet. I don’t want Obama to play the games.
Obama is not capable of healing the world, but I think under his leadership, the people of the United States may be able to start moving forward again. Obama’s success does not mean racism is over, but seeing a black man at the head of the country can only chip away at discrimination, for white Americans and black Americans and all Americans.
The world has not changed today. It doesn’t work that way. Today is a symbol though, and today has the potential to be a beginning.