Patty Dineen

The view from here

Dreams and celebration today, reality and work tomorrow

Today, we will celebrate one of those galvanizing historic moments in our country’s history.  There’s lots to celebrate and everyone’s personal list is probably at least a little different.  But for today, as a country, we are possibly as nearly united in sharing happiness and optimism as such a diverse and free population can be.  Let’s hope it doesn’t last too long.

I say this for President Obama’s sake as well as for the country’s sake.  It’s been exhilarating but we have decidedly not done him any favors by placing him on such a frightentingly high and narrow pedestal.   Much of a move in any direction (perhaps even moving at all) poses the risk of a serious fall.  Great hope was sown and fermented during the last two years of his campaign for the presidency.  Like yeast in a warm, sugary environment, it has grown and spread.  It smells good, it looks good, it feels good.  But lately, if you’ve been listening, even Obama has been throwing some seeds of caution into that frothy mix.

Just in the area of the economy, he’s been pointing out that the new fiscal stimulus package won’t please everyone; that he will make mistakes; and that things will likely get worse before they start to get better.  This all sounds reasonable – who would fault him?  But eventually the campaign promise (that we all cheered) to “cut programs that don’t work,” will have to become a list of real programs — programs that employ people, that communities and individuals may have come to cherish, that have at least some meaning or they wouldn’t have been created in the first place. 

 Obama has warned us that there will be sacrifice and work.  We’ve cheered that too, but we haven’t heard much yet about what kind of sacrifices and who will do the work.  Recent public outreach campaigns and photo-ops have been satisfying but misleading.  Will we donate time and energy to help paint the walls in a deteriorating school?  No problem.  Will we get rid of teachers who can’t teach, and pay more taxes to support those who can?  Maybe. Maybe not.  Will we pack gift boxes for those serving in war zones overseas?  Happily.  Will we support the reinstitution of a draft if it is deemed necessary. Uhm…  Will we support an energy independence “revolution?”  Sign me up.  Will we welcome (or even tolerate) a significant new tax on gasoline?  How about the building of a nuclear reactor in our community?

The generalities are fun; the details of making choices…not so much.  Obama knows this and he’s been dropping hints.  He has lately referred to the difference between the reality of doing the hard work as compared to what has been said in “campaign rhetoric” — his phrase, not mine.  It is a worrisome testament to what sparse civics and history education we have required of the last couple of generations that so many youthful Obama supporters believe that the sentiments and ideas they are hearing in his speeches are being expressed by him for the first time ever.  Yesterday I watched Richard Nixon’s inaugural speech on C-span — if you just listened to the words you could easily imagine large parts of the same speech sounding right on the mark today.  But that’s okay.  What matters is what happens next.

Obama needs to move quickly to use his tremendous political and social capital to help us learn how to disagree with him without rejecting him; how to live with choices that are not the ones we would make; and how we can hold him and his administration accountable.  He needs to help us not panic that all is lost when we see that, after all, he is just human like the rest of us.  Today we need to celebrate; tomorrow we need to start to get real.

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Written by dineenp

January 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm

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