I am a cynic and skeptic of the worst kind, the type of person who claims to be a realist but who secretly knows that he is a hopeless pessimist. And yet I cannot help but feel more than a little relieved and lightened, very much in spite of myself, at our country’s overwhelming endorsement of a new ideology, one that I believe is different and separate from the politics that survived on the perpetuation of the myth of a “culture war.” I’m talking about Barrack Obama, President Elect, if I haven’t been clear enough.
I’m not naive enough to believe that Obama isn’t a politician, fallible like all before him, and I’m not giddy or silly enough to think of him as a Jesusian savior of America. When the conservative movement mocked Obama’s followers for seemingly seeing in the man a messiah figure, what they didn’t understand was the radical break that Obama represented. It is not so much Obama the man that we longed for, but the idea of Obama–the idea of someone radically different from everything that had come before. And in electing Obama–and the idea of Obama–we immediately achieved something, as Americans, that is wholly independent of anything Obama will do over the next four years as President. We showed the world that our democracy works and that we as a people are not the ignorant xenophobic fundamentalists that the Bush administration worked so hard to paint us as.
I’ve been thinking these past few days about Michelle Obama’s infamous comment during the campaign that she felt proud to be an American for the first time in her adult life. The comment was fodder for right wingers, of course, and at the time it seemed like a bit of a blunder even to some Obama supporters. But now I see it in a new way. My adult life has essentially taken place in this decade, the Bush decade, the 9/11 decade (I turned 21 in the year 2000). While I’ve had moments of pride in individual Americans, it’s been hard to see the (regressive) movement of our country in any positive light. I remember being a child, being taught and believing that this was a special country, a different country, a country that people wanted to come to because it was special and different. In my adult life in this decade, I’ve watched our ideological stock plummet around the globe. I’ve found myself, while traveling abroad, having to explain–with quite a bit of difficulty–that we’re not all ignorant fundamentalists in America. That thinking critically was actually once considered patriotic. That America was really a much better place than its elected leadership exemplified. The policies of the Bush administration–and the nation’s acquiescent and apathetic response to them–slowly drained my energy and hardened my pessimism in politics and people into a thick, cynical shell. I am amazed at how quickly the November 4th, 2008 election shattered this shell.
I know that Obama will make mistakes, that he will have to engage in the same kind of political gamesmanship that every other president has had to in order to push their agenda. But again, to paraphrase Obama himself, this isn’t about him–this is about us, the U.S., and our declared mandate for political and cultural change in this country. So while I will keep my skeptical reservations and pessimism about politics and the two-party system that we let dominate this country, I can’t help but feel a restoration of pride and a sense of possibility for this country.