F, a former student of mine just wrote the following. F is a real cosmopolitan. She’s Nigerian, she was in my class when I taught in Ethiopia, and she’s currently honing her ground strokes in Canada.
What happened yesterday in America? A British newspaper proclaimed it a giant leap for mankind. From Obama Japan to Antarctica to Kenya to Western Europe and of course Canada, people seem to have recognized that something truly profound and seismic just took place. It goes beyond Barack’s inspirational vision of unity and change I suspect and his clear grasp of current tall issues facing the US economy and by extension the world at large, his delineation from the platitudes of the Republican party and the sense that with tectonic plates shifting constantly around the globe he may be the leader the free world needs at this time. Perhaps the real reason people wept openly was the acknowledgment of emotional inclusiveness more than anything else, the feeling that everyone was indeed equal, and that this wasn’t illusory. Is this then the dawn of a new Golden Age? Are we all going to be happy now for ever and ever? I daresay, I think not—Darwinism and everything else that makes sure human beings will ultimately see separation in all things could still win out as it has every time for millions of years; after all prosperous homogeneous societies haven’t necessarily been the end of terrible ills. I can only hope I guess that Obama will carry these great expectations the same way he weathered the rigors of the campaign trail—pretty damn well, in my opinion—but who can see the future?
F’s thoughts inspire a few of my own. First, it’s strange that I’ve been by the phone all day and I haven’t received a call from Obama’s transition team.
I kicked on CNN this morning at 5:40a before meeting up with M, my neighbor, friend, and McCainiac training partner at 5:55a to get our morning run on. CNN had a split screen that showed people celebrating Obama’s victory in Georgia (the republic), Kenya, Western Europe, and one other foreign location. I felt an affinity with those people who were celebrating Obama’s improbable victory. Of course it’s a special unexpected accomplishment for African Americans, but I believe it’s also a watershed for anyone who is not white or male. And it’s even a watershed for white males like me who believe we may now begin to maximize all of the talent that’s available in this incredibly diverse country.
At the same time, I couldn’t help but think how M would interpret the same footage. I deeply appreciate my American citizenship, but ultimately, I think of myself as a global citizen. In contrast, M thinks of himself exclusively as an American. As a result, he thinks we’ve made substantial progress on the war on terrorism under 43 because we haven’t been attacked in seven years. He isn’t even aware of how many attacks there have been in other places. I count those deaths, he seemingly doesn’t.
I believe we need to rely more on diplomacy and less on our military strength. M believes diplomacy is pointless and military strength is the key to our security. So if he were watching the CNN split screen, he’d probably say, “There you have it, another reason people should have voted McCain-Palin.” Why? Because he’s suspicious of the “other” and prefers having adversarial relations with foreign countries. His perspective is a “guy on the street” version of real politic. Every country’s every decision is based upon their perceived self interests and military power trumps diplomacy. Ultimately, we have no true friends, we’re a lone shining light on the hill.
F raises the prospect that this momentous occasion doesn’t mean everything will inevitably turn out well. I always get nervous whenever someone younger than me is more cynical than me, but I have to agree with her. I thought his speech last night was excellent and chuckled at Mark Shield’s when he criticized it for being too long. I think he spoke for 17-20 minutes, at the end of a campaign that lasted 21 months! I’m going to give Mark a pass on that one because he was up way past his bedtime. One of several aspects of the speech that I liked was how he began lowering expectations. “The road will be steep, there will be setbacks.” Then he said progress will take more than a year and maybe more than a term. How will it turn out? As F implied, only time will tell.
And like F, I was tremendously impressed with his campaign, especially his communication skills and poise. So I’m going suppress my normal cynicism and be cautiously optimistic that he can leverage his incredible momentum to as Tavis Smiley said, “Make sure progressive policies trump personality.” He’ll put an excellent team together and Congress will work with him at least early on.
Can we grow the economy while preserving the environment, rebuild foreign alliances, and begin making progress on a long list of global challenges? If we patiently and persistently work together inside and outside of government, yes we can.