The weather has gone abominable in the Pacific Northwest, and, since people are staying home in droves—which means they are not darkening the doors of the café—I have found myself with considerable amounts of time on my hands. My first instinct is to wring those very hands in worry and frustration with the evil-looking numbers we are putting up for this week (and probably for the rest of the month, considering that the weather is not slated to improve much between now and New Years'…) Instead, I've decided to pick up the book I've been trying to read for the last month, and see if I can't get through to the end. Yes…I'm still reading Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope.
When I first cracked open the book several weeks ago, I found myself often reading through tears. I was still in the "relief bordering on disbelief" stage of post-election euphoria. I could hardly read a well-formed, comprehensible sentence crafted by the man slated to become our next president without experiencing an almost overwhelming feeling of awe, gratitude and victory. It felt for all the world like a religious conversion experience. (And I know from where I speak on such things, believe me…)
As time has passed, the euphoria has given way to practicality. I'm starting to wonder how many wheels our broken economy has to lose, as one seems to go spinning off into the gutter every few hours. If the wails of woe issuing from the Senate, the auto industry, the energy and oil industries, China, real estate and construction concerns, and just about every other contributor to our nation's financial stability don't snap one's attention back to dire reality, nothing will. So I have continued my reading in a more subdued state of mind.
And, here's the thing. It's not that Mr. Obama isn't intelligent, well-read, even-tempered and introspective…all traits that will indeed be pleasant to attribute to an American president. It's just that he is very much a regular guy. The things he writes are refreshing and reasonable, but they are not revolutionary. What makes him look like the second coming is the backdrop of the last eight miserable years of intellectual and moral retreat through which this nation has suffered under the Bush Administration. It would be hard for anyone not to look like a knight in shining armor coming out of that cistern of muck. What I fear now is that the media, the government, and the American people are going to expect way more from Barack Obama than any human being could possibly deliver. And then turn on him like a pack of wolves…
The nation is watching closely as Mr. Obama selects his cabinet and top advisors. Everyone is still gun-shy of the cronyism that was the hallmark of Bush Administration appointments. We ooh and aaah over Obama's thoughtful selection process as he calls upon experts and scholars, people who might actually have credentials, some of the best credentials, in fact, to fill key roles in his government. Once again, why do we find this so fascinating? Isn't this how the process should look?
Yes, there will be quite a contrast between the government assembled by a privileged, ne'er-do-well scion of a Texas oil baron-turned-politician, and the one brought together by a middle-class Constitutional scholar who came to politics via the route of public service. Bush's philosophy of government is that it act only in ways that will enhance the power of the powerful…thereby keeping our nation strong and, through trickle-down, improving the lives of those without power. And all that power must intersect in the person of one central figure: the President. The guy who at least appears to hold all the cards and make all the rules.
Mr. Obama's philosophy is that government is a coalition of the best minds and practitioners, even those with opposing viewpoints, working together for the greater good of society. The president is the guy whose responsibility it is to call all these various factions together and facilitate their cooperation. I think we can expect Mr. Obama's to be a government of conviction rather than agenda. It is one thing to have solid beliefs and to live by them; it is quite another to have an agenda to force everyone else in the country to live according to your convictions. In Mr. Obama's mind, the way to govern—indeed, the very foundation of our government—is to bring the best, most capable minds together and allow them to have at it. Here are his words on the subject:
"Whether we are for or against affirmative action, for or against prayer in schools, we must test out our ideals, vision, and values against the realities of a common life, so that over time they may be refined, discarded, or replaced by new ideals, sharper visions, deeper values. Indeed, it is that process, according to Madison, that brought about the Constitution itself, through a convention in which 'no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their propriety and truth, and was open to the force of argument.'"
Imagine that. A government that would be all about encouraging people to open their minds, or even change their minds; as opposed to a goose-stepping regime that adheres to a strict list of written-in-stone commandments, crying "flip-flop!" at the slightest prospect of an enlightened recalculation.
I don't know about you, but I personally am very eager to see Mr. Obama's—and the Founders'—theories of government get a chance to shine. No matter what happens, we will no doubt be living in a very different country than we have been of late. And it is SO about time!