Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New President

Snow on Our Street

Like many other Americans and millions around the world, I was overjoyed to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office this afternoon and become the 44th President of the United States. The following is my journal entry for January 19, 2009, taken from my personal diary:

Today is the last full day of the Bush presidency, a fact that seems incredibly surreal. President Bush has been in office since I was twelve years old, an age so tender I can’t even fathom it now.

I was in seventh grade when he was elected, and the controversial 2000 election is one of the first concrete memories of a political event that I have, the intrigues of the Clinton Administration coming at a time when I was too young to pay attention or understand (my father explained the Monica Lewinsky scandal to Powell and I by saying that Clinton was a “good president” but a bad person).

I can clearly remember sitting at my kitchen table in Dirty Town, Native State, one cold early morning in late November of 2000, listening to two men on the radio discuss the unresolved presidential election as I prepared to leave for school.

“We should be telling our children to pay attention,” one of them was saying. “This truly is such a unique moment in our history.”

It was, and it led to incredible hardship. I have often wondered, but particularly of late, whether the Supreme Court, had it been able to see the future and know what the eight years of the Bush Administration would entail, would still have voted to stop the Florida recount. In truth, I don’t think the hardline Republicans would have cared anyway. I think that, even with the foreknowledge of all to come, they would have done the exact same thing.

It is that reticence and that ideological rigidity that caused them to be rejected with such force by our electorate at all levels of government, and I hope for the country’s sake that none like them ever rise again. Maybe, as a nation, we are now beyond the point where unscrupulous ideologues can capture our attention with showmanship and meaningless catchphrases. Maybe the well of hatred in this land has sunk so low and become so shallow that no future politician will be able to plumb its depths for the fuel needed to divide us, as the GOP has so shrewdly done for the last decade. Maybe, as a nation, we are beyond that point.

I don’t think so, though.

I think the more honest answer is that the current financial crisis has nearly coerced Americans into for once voting with their minds rather than with their prejudices. The widespread poverty and suffering tat have fanned like an epidemic in the last year forced an honest evaluation, for the sake of self preservation, of the national situation and who was best equipped to handle it.

Under other circumstances, Barack Obama may have lost to John McCain. In any kind of normal political environment, Obama would never have won the nomination. Bush’s legacy, however, pushed our worst tendencies away, and now Barack Obama will take the oath of office tomorrow as the 44th President of the United States and its first African-American Commander-in-Chief. Incredible.
Yet the battle is far from won. Some day, hopefully many years from now, a new generation will emerge with no memory of the hurricanes, the terrorist attacks, the religious bigotry, the intolerance, the electoral fraud, the devastated economy, the lies, the wars, the manipulation. One day there shall come a people lulled into docility, as Americans under Clinton were, by peace and prosperity, left unequipped to handle or even recognize a threat when it approaches.

George W. Bush seemed perfectly harmless in 2000, and “moral values” appeared to be an acceptable forum of debate to a people who had no real problems. They forgot that Bill Clinton’s tireless fiscal prudence and international diplomatic efforts were what had allowed them to lead such a carefree existence, and so they elected an idiot who plunged the nation into disaster.

For a long time, we won’t have to worry about a recurrence of this. Current issues are too pressing and serious to allow the kind of nonsense that Bush campaigned on during the 2000 election to have any resonance, but in ten or twenty years, once Obama and his successors have fixed the ruinous legacy of George W. Bush, vigilance will be needed again.

There is a positive side to this, though: for immediate political purposes, the GOP has been destroyed. In January of 2001, the Right was beginning an ascendancy of theocracy, hostility, and bare-majority rule that was to reach the zenith of its power with the narrow reelection of George W. Bush in 2004. At the time, I wept and bemoaned John Kerry’s loss, but had he been in office the last four years, Bush’s time-bomb would have exploded anyway, and we would have been blamed for this mess. The world and the country needed to see what a total failure the Republican doctrine was so it could be completely repudiated. Now it has been, and tomorrow at noon a new political era in this nation’s history will begin.

On a personal note, it’s hard to believe that the Bush presidency is ending. It’s hard for me to conceive of the White House with anyone but George W. Bush in it, as he was for my entire adolescence, throughout all four of my high school years and my first three years in college.

I was twelve when Bush took office, a child, and am now a twenty-year-old young man.

I cannot wait for Obama’s presidency to begin. It is a cold and snowy night here, with the first real snowfall of the season. I like to think that Heaven is glad for this agonizing and shameful period to be coming to an end.

It is fitting that we receive our first measurable snowfall on this day, as if we’re being purified of the many sins committed by this country in the last eight years.

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