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President Obama

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I've always had mixed feelings about Obama.

I thought I had written a journal entry back in 2004 about watching his DNC speech, but apparently I didn't. I did, however, respond to an entry of Vardibidian's about it; in my comment, I wrote, among other things:

...his delivery blew me away. I was deeply dubious about some of the things he said, and a little uncomfortable with some of the others, but the charisma was magical.

Through most of the campaign, my general feeling tended to be something like this:

He's incredibly charismatic and an inspiring orator. I really like his emphasis on cooperation, but he's a bit more of a centrist than would be my ideal. I love the idea of having a black President, but I worry that he wouldn't survive his first term in office—for that matter, I worry that someone might try to assassinate him at his first inauguration. He keeps promising change—but so do many other politicians who never follow through, and (as I noted in an entry in late 2007) "not much changes because the culture of power perpetuates itself."

Or, as my brother wrote in a comment on that entry, describing how this kind of thing usually happens:

Candidate vows to change Washington.

Candidate gets elected.

Washington changes candidate (now elected official), not vice versa.

In early 2008, Varidibidian nicely summed up one of the more hopeful threads in what I was thinking:

One thing that a great president can do with the bully pulpit [...] is to call us to our better selves, to give us an idea of the Americans we want to be, and ask us to be those Americans. I think it's possible that Barack Obama could do that. I think that he could, possibly, if he is elected, change our ideas of what we are, and what politics is, in a way that would have real effects on how we carry out our daily lives.

Because if he makes us want to be smart, young (at heart), good-hearted, and all that, and we actually make ourselves like that, then, well, that's an improvement, isn't it?

To put all this another way: I vacillated between being inspired by Obama's oratory and vision (and by the inspiration others were finding in him), and being cynical about his likelihood of getting anything significant done that I would want him to get done.

And it's always seemed to me that there's likely to be a lot of disillusion among Obama's more idealistic supporters as reality sets in—as someone or other said during the campaign, "They'll be really upset when they discover that he's a politician." (Paraphrased—I misplaced the exact quote.)

So I haven't really been letting myself hope as much as I would like to.

And more recently, Obama's choices of cabinet members and such have suggested that he was serious about reaching across the aisle, which has resulted in a certain amount of angst among his more liberal supporters—as I noted a few weeks ago:

I suspect that I'm not the only liberal who loves the idea of reaching across party lines to work together but also wants the results to end up being liberal results. Let's all work together, to accomplish my goals!

And yet.

On his first full day in office, Barack Obama instituted rules preventing his appointees from joining lobbying groups. Elaborating on these rules, he said:

It's not about advantaging yourself. It's not about advancing your friends or your corporate clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization. [...] Public service is, simply and absolutely, about advancing the interests of Americans.

He also instituted new rules on government transparency, saying:

The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is over now.

He is, as expected, embarking on plans to close Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps not as fast as I would like—various news venues suggest it'll be within a year—but way better than not at all.

And this (from the same Washington Post article as the last couple quotes) made me really happy:

Sources familiar with the briefings said Obama also will sign two executive orders altering CIA detention and interrogation rules, limiting interrogation standards in all U.S. facilities worldwide to those outlined in the Army Field Manual, and prohibiting the agency from secretly holding terrorist detainees in third-country prisons.

And he's still an eloquent orator, as demonstrated by his inaugural address. Here are some of my favorite bits:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers [...] drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man—a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.

[...]

And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, [...] know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.

[...]

[...] our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

[...]

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; [...] we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; [...] that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

[...]

For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our fate.

A couple of parts of that speech brought tears to my eyes. I don't often think of myself as patriotic per se, but I found a lot of this pretty damn inspirational.

. . . The above link is to an entry in, remarkably, the White House blog. The entry contains a small video of the address, plus a text transcript, plus a link to a 230MB mp4 video that would be great except for the insanely annoying bouncing up and down of the camera during the speech—get a tripod, cameraperson!

While I'm mentioning the website, I should add that their page on their civil rights agenda has a whole section on support for the LGBT community. Not only does that page call for repealing DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell, as expected; not only does it say "we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation"; but it also suggests ensuring that "same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions" receive the same "federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status." This is not federal same-sex marriage; it's not even quite federal civil unions, if I'm reading it right. But it looks to me like they're advocating federal recognition of civil unions and same-sex marriages that are recognized by states, and that, imo, is huge. (I should note that I think all the stuff on that page was also on the transition website, and some or all of it may've been on the campaign website. But to me, it carries special weight when it appears on the whitehouse.gov site.)

. . . An unrelated thought: I was probably being unduly paranoid, but it was a relief to me that he survived the inauguration. I know there were a huge number of people looking out for his well-being that day, but I was still nervous. And I know that a would-be assassin will have plenty of other opportunities for attempts, but I was figuring that a crowd that big was a much more uncontrolled environment than most he'll be in during his Presidency.

Anyway. I think the moment that brought home to me that all this is real is when someone on NPR today casually referred to "President Obama." Somehow I found that phrase very pleasing.

(I've found it rather odd that various news articles and radio pieces have seemed to go out of their way to refer to him as "Barack Hussein Obama"—I sorta wonder whether that's meant as a bit of a jab at all the people who used his full name for Islamophobic fearmongering during the campaign.)

Anyway. There's certainly a lot for President Obama to do. He'll indubitably end up disappointing at least some of us at some point; and who knows whether he'll be able to help turn the economy around. And I'm going to retain a healthy level of cynicism about the likelihood of the system as a whole changing in any important ways. (Changing, I mean, from the way things were eight years ago. He's obviously changing many things about the way things have been during the past eight years, and I'm immensely grateful.)

But for now, I'm more hopeful about the course of our nation's near-term future than I've been in quite a while.

As I was finishing up this entry, a particularly self-aggrandizing song from Evita—"Rainbow High"—came up on iTunes ("I'm their savior, that's what they call me" and so on); amusingly ironic. But another song, a much more idealistic one, also came up: Si Kahn and Jane Sapp's rendition of Joan Baez's "Carry It On." Their version of the last verse, lightly modified:

When you can't go on any longer,

Take the hands of your sisters and brothers.

Every victory [brings] another.

Carry it on; carry it on.

3 Comments

Size of the security force for Inauguration (FBI, Secret Service, Army, Reserves, National Guard, Federal Marshals, Park Police, METRO Police, Washington Police, and nearby state and municipal police forces): 23,000. I'm not sure if that figure also includes the several thousand uniformed volunteers or not. But they were also omnipresent and visible and, despite the weather, universally cheerful and helpful in my experience (which involved not only being greeted and directed, but also given very helpful directions a few times and even an offer to retie my shoe when it was clear I was pretty burdened and might have a hard time of it).

Approx size of our entire presence in Afghanistan: 23,000.

They pulled out all the stops and ran an extremely strong, yet efficient and non-invasive operation. There were a few snafus--most notably and unfortunately the Purple Tunnel of Doom--but security was amazingly well orchestrated.

And throughout the campaign, my experiences interacting with Secret Service and Federal Marshals were extraordinarily positive and reassuring, and all the local police I talked to said they were extremely friendly and well organized when they came in and took command temporarily on short notice. This was an aspect of the Presidency I had never had total confidence in, nor any sense that they would be anything but gruff silent Men In Black, and that impression turned out to be very far from the truth. I hope that my experiences can provide some measure of reassurement and comfort to you and the many friends who share your concerns, which were also mine eleven months ago.


Though I should add that there's one branch of law enforcement that may not have been involved: the Postal Inspectors. Having visited the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum, I have learned their brilliant motto:

"The Postal Service delivers the mail, but the Postal Inspectors deliver justice."

That's a tagline just waiting for an action movie, that is.


We flew out of SFO less than 12 hours after the inauguration, and the TSA agents were acting happy, relaxed, and cracking jokes. Same at BOS when we arrived there. I'm hoping that it's reflective of their expectations for some more rational approaches from their management.


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