Unlike most Americans, I'm not letting myself get caught up in the emotion of the day. Instead, I'm trying to keep perspective as the weight of the overwhelming historic challenges that face us as a nation are as clearly in front of us as they were when they first emerged during the last days of the Presidential Campaign last October. It's hard not to want to celebrate this historic day, but perhaps it's a little easier for me because Sunday night I received a big dose of perspective.
On the 11:00 News Sunday night, it was reported that a Citgo Gas Station in Asheville, North Carolina, was robbed at gun point. The armed robber did not harm anyone. In fact, as he reached over the counter to take the $400 in cash out of the open register drawer, he apologized to the cashier and said: "I'm sorry, I need the money to feed my family." The owner of the Citgo Gas Station was interviewed on the newscast and said that he felt sorry for the man. I feel sorry for the man and I actually surprised myself in hoping he wouldn't be caught. Americans are hurting. Unemployment is rapidly rising. Home foreclosures reached record levels in December. And despite the hundreds of billions of dollars the federal government is pouring into the economy, we keep plunging deeper and deeper into recession. It's hard not to identify with the armed robber at some level, or at least wonder what you or I would do if we found ourselves out of work, unable to pay our mortgages, facing the loss of our homes and wondering what we could do just to feed our children.
Another reason why I'm not caught up in the emotion of the day is my personal outrage on the spending that is taking place for the inauguration. Yesterday I posted a breakdown of the monies that are being spent over on Inside Government. At least $150 Million will be spent for this year's inauguration. I just think that that kind of spending is inappropriate when so many people are hurting and the government is burning money as if it was heating oil and we were still living in an ice age instead of confronted with massive climate change from global warming. I just feel that such largesse sends the wrong message and sets the wrong tone for the new Administration when the economic climate is so poor.
It's not that I don't understand or appreciate the historic nature of the day. I am so proud to be an American, and I am especially proud that so many different ethnic groups have come together for the goal of electing Barack Obama president. Not because I supported Obama as my choice for President, because I didn't. But because for so long our country has been splintered in so many ways by politics and ethnic mistrust as usual. If we are to be a nation, then we need to be united as a nation. We need to respect each other. We need to be tolerant of different cultural traditions and religious practices and sexual orientations. All of the differences that keep us at arms length from each other should be regarded as strengths of diversity and opinion that bring us together and make us stronger. And once the campaigns have ended, and our leaders have been elected for better or for worse, it's incumbent on all of us to come together as a nation and support our government. We need to be a nation, not a fractured population of red states or blue states.
This does not mean that we can not express differences of opinion--we must continue to do so or our democracy will fail. However, once a decision has been made, we need to be adult enough to move on and not hold grudges or cling to old symbols but instead step up to the plate of the next challenge and continue to work for the change that we desire and continue to make our voices heard--whether through blogging, political activism, letter writing to our elected representatives, or even conversations around the water cooler or on our facebook pages.
We must come together. And, on most levels, that is what is happening today in Washington as our country swears into office our 44th President--the first black man to be elected to the highest office in the land. This event must be celebrated, I know. Especially in conjunction with Martin Luther King Day, it's almost impossible not to be caught up in the emotion of the event. But, at least in my mind, there's a subtle difference between being caught up in real jubilation and in a mob mentality of jumping on the bandwagon.
Perhaps our nation NEEDS a reason to celebrate. News has been dire for so long, and we are all feeling the effects of the economy. I understand the need to be happy and to party and to celebrate. And if the occasion of electing the first black man in history as president and the symbolic final defeat of racism isn't such an occasion, I don't know what is. But I believe such a celebration can and should take place without the largesse.
What would have made this event perfect, considering the economic circumstances we find ourselves in, would have been for Barack Obama to scale down the Inaugural Balls. To reduce the number of them. Are TEN balls really necessary? Or, if that wasn't possible, turn them all into a charity event. If all the money that was spent on the balls could have been donated to local food banks or homeless shelters or Habitat for Humanity projects in New Orleans or something meaningful, then I believe Barack Obama would have really demonstrated what a day of volunteerism and charity really means, and he would have done what is absolutely appropriate in these economic times. But to me, spending $150 million and more, and causing this kind of money to be spent on security and infrastructure and staffing and transportation and all the other costs associated with this day when men are resorting to armed robbery in Asheville, North Carolina just to put food on the table to feed one's children is a largesse that is insensitive in so many ways to the plight of countless Americans and is a slap in the face to those that are just struggling to survive. Here. In the United States. In our own country.
I ask all my readers: How can we pour millions of dollars of aid into Gaza when Hamas doesn't want our help and believes we are as bad and immoral as Israel; when we know that given a chance, Hamas would launch rockets at our cities; and how can we spend so much on the expenses of a Presidential inauguration when Americans all over this country need that money just to put food on the table?
This is why I just can't quite jump on the Obama bandwagon at this time. As much as I appreciate the historical nature of the event that many of us thought we would never live to see, and as proud as we are that we have come this far; so many of our priorities and our choices--at least as far as spending priorities and foreign relations and aid practices are completely whacked.
Beginning this afternoon, the weight of the Presidency will fall squarely on Barack Obama's shoulders. As a nation, I believe we are up to any challenge that presents itself to us, but we need firm, unequivocal, and decisive leadership to deal with the many issues and threats that are now before us:
1) The overwhelming economic recession.
2) Extricating our nation from involvement in two wars while protecting us from terrorist attack.
3) Decisive action, not peace talks, in resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict once and for all without completely destabilizing the entire Middle East.
4) The question of Iranian nuclear capability.
5) Controlling and reducing a national deficit that has long since spiraled out of control.
6) Reforming Social Security and Medicare and ensuring their solvency as the babyboomers begin to retire and stress the system like it's never been stressed before.
7) Reforming our Health Care System to make health care truly affordable for all and making quality, affordable health insurance available to all United States citizens.
8) Instituting a coherent National Energy Policy that will free the United States from dependency on foreign oil and put our national security squarely back in our own control.
9) Recognizing that Global Warming and Climate Change is happening, doing all that is necessary to reduce the impacts, create a Green economy and energy policy, and to start planning now for the impacts of Sea Level Rise before all our coastal cities are put at immediate risk.
10) To restore the respect of the United States abroad and to reestablish our country as the world leader that upholds principles it once was.
Any one of these ten historic challenges would be enough for any administration to take on and struggle with to succeed. But as each administration over the past twenty years or so has failed to deal with them or put them off for the future, they now fall to Barack Obama and the team he has put in place. As most of the nation celebrates today in giddy joy at what our nation has accomplished to get to this point, I hope they realize that the real work has yet to begun. The spirit of "Yes We Can" propelled Barack Obama to the White House, but it's going to take much more of where that came from to solve any of the challenges before us. Barack Obama can not do any of it alone. He needs the unequivocal support of all those that mobilized for him, meaning that they all need to stay engaged and to keep Congress in line and supportive to tackle a massive national agenda like no other.
My fear is that expectations have been set so high for Barack Obama, that anything short of quick accomplishment of the completion of most of these ten historic challenges will be seen as failure, and that the resulting criticisms will start pouring down like the water over Niagara Falls.
My fear, if Barack Obama is not immediately successful, is that those criticisms will be perceived as racist.
My fear, if Barack Obama does not succeed and racist comments begin to fly, is a series of riots that would rival anything some of us remember from the Sixties.
And my fear, if Barack Obama does not succeed, is such a huge national emotional let down--such a huge feeling of failure and lost opportunity, such a huge national malaise that it will be very hard to find any hope or belief in our government or elected officials again. After all, if Barack Obama is indeed the greatest superstar politician that has appeared on the national stage since Kennedy or even Lincoln--as he has all but been proclaimed to be--his success will indeed echo through eternity. But if he can't live up to expectation or fulfill the promises he made to those that were galvanized to elect him and are celebrating that moment today, what depths of despair and disappointment await us?
I'm not running around giddy with joy today. But I am praying for Barack Obama's success.
Thanks for reading.