The now famous or infamous Bill Ayers recently quoted Jerry Garcia, "What a long, strange trip it’s been." Indeed, I’ll second that. Barack Obama’s victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park held many memories for me. I grew up in Chicago and up until now my most vivid memories of the park had been of the Democratic National Convention in 1968. My sister was trying to flee the convention that night and our neighbor, a photographer for the Sun Times, was beaten and pushed through a glass window by police who then smashed his camera just for good measure.
So, like for millions of other Americans, there is a special comfort to be taken in seeing the process work so positively on the same spot where it had failed so miserably a generation before. But already the media is chiming in, trying to create drama and conflict where there is none. "Will Obama pick Hillary as his Secretary of State because he is afraid of the trouble she might cause him in the Senate?"
No, he picked Hillary because Obama’s record, the one conservatives said during the election that he didn’t have in the first place, is one of consensus building. When he became the President of the Harvard Law Review the liberal students were overjoyed, but much to their dismay he appointed many conservative students to staff positions. He was trying to build a team of the best minds available, and Hillary is the best mind available. We have seen for the last eight years where you get by hiring based on patronage and party affiliation. Heck of a job there, Brownie!
Already the media dinosaurs have begun to roar, unaware of their own eminent extinction as the Rushosuaris bellows, "This is Obama’s recession!" And the Pat Bucanapus echoes, "When is Obama going to do something to calm the markets?" Do you see those dark and ominous clouds overhead, fellows? That is your demise.
"Who knows for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." When Ronald Reagan was first elected in 1980 he carried the youth vote by 60% and it heralded a Republican generation. Obama carried the youth vote in this election by 66% and they turned out in record numbers, to boot. So that Palindactyle has about as much chance of flying out of her frozen perch in Wasilla as those turkeys behind her.
The rumors continue. "Progressives are unhappy with many of Obama’s cabinet picks." While at the same time the economic crisis deepens until the die-hard Republican free-marketeers scream, "When is Obama going to do something to calm the markets!?" The "D" word is starting to be used to describe the economic climate and the comparisons to Obama and JFK have become comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. The record shows that FDR was not elected because he was the most liberal candidate. Roosevelt had the reputation of being a shrewd, calculating politician but also a pragmatist. He was not wedded to a philosophy but to succeeding, and what succeeds is liberalism.
My heart swells when I hear that Obama is studying Roosevelt’s First Hundred Days. Think about it, a President that reads books instead of just coloring in them or using them to prop up the broken leg on the couch. Obama is more a pragmatist than a liberal but he will go to the left because he will have to. When you've been going the wrong direction for eight years the only viable option is to go the other way. And we are at that point in our history; we are going the other way. All men and women who aspire to the presidency desire to be great presidents. Some who shall remain nameless have the desire but not the tools to achieve that greatness. Hint, the answers are in those books, the past is the road map to the future.
Obama admires Lincoln and Lincoln was also a pragmatist. It has been said that had Lincoln been the President of the Confederacy and Jeff Davis of the Union, the Confederacy would have won the war. Lincoln read every book on war in the Library of Congress and still trusted to the opinion of generals. Davis treated his generals as the hired help and appointed many through state and family connections. I love the famous story of the complaints about General Grant’s drinking a bottle of whiskey every day, to which Lincoln answered, "Then send a case of whiskey to every general in the army, that man fights." Greatness is in finding the solution. It’s the results that count and all else is bunting and crepe paper.
Stories have begun to circulate that scalpers are selling tickets to the Inaugural ceremony for as much as $40,000. I think back to that cold January morning in 2001, of the surging crowds with protest signs and middle fingers elevated as the police held them back. Dozens arrested as eggs pelted down on the limousine carrying the President select. How far we have come; what a long strange trip it has been. Guantanamo, habeas corpus, waterboarding, Haliburton, Katrina, outing CIA agents, yellow cake, until $40,000 sounds almost way too cheap.
We cannot discount the direness of our situation. We have proven correct what Churchill once said of us: "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else first." But we on the left have gained control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. We must remember, and they must remember, that it’s the results that will count. They must tell the lobbyists and special interests to go the hell away. The crisis is too deep and the solutions too hard right now to be dithering around the edges. No more posturing and mugging for the cameras, its time to switch from defense to offense and move forward.
Time to carry the ball forward and not to snipe at each other's heels nor to label, but to succeed, for without success the prospect is dark for us all. Almost as unthinkable as it was when FDR said, "Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.... Treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war," and more importantly, "Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy. I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment, but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment."
The Park Service first estimated that as many as four million Americans will be on the Mall in Washington on January 20th, then quickly revised the number up to five million Americans. Think about that for a moment. Woodstock wasn’t even a million people and yet as many as five million apathetic Americans are expected to be on the Mall. It’s not because Barack Obama is the first African American President, as the media would explain, but because this country is in trouble, the exact same kind of trouble we found ourselves in in 1932.
The media have pages and airtime to fill and if they can’t find a story they will create one. Stories of frames without pictures and smoke without fires and tiny partisan voices with loud corporate roars fill the airwaves, but five million Americans filling the National Mall is as historic and monumental as you will ever see in your lifetime. Our leaders must not let us down; they must succeed for we won’t ask nicely again. The nation is asking for action, action now, and as Harry Truman once put it, "It’s amazing all that can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit."
What would you do to change the world?