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Taking a moment to look back

In honor of the upcoming Inauguration, here’s a post I wrote on February 14, 2008 after seeing Obama speak in person. Once you read it, you may be able to imagine how shocked I was by his victory on Election night. I didn’t believe it was real until the next morning (and I walked around all day November 5th with a gigantic smile on my face).

Barack Obama Scares Me (in a good way)

A little over three years ago the tiny green sprig of hope I had for this country’s future was ground into the dirt by a traumatic nationwide event that shall not be named. (You may remember it; it begins with “E.”)

Shortly after this event I chopped up the remains of the green sprig of hope, turned over the earth, tamped it down and sprayed it with weed killer. “Nothing shall grow here again,” I said, “it is too painful.”

In the time since, my daily dose of NPR news has supplied the weed’s former spot with a steady source of salt and moss-be-gone. No hope here. I became accustomed to the constant dull ache of my barren political heart. My despair wasn’t alarming on a daily level, just present. Yellow-alert despair.

Nearly one week ago I attended the rally in Seattle where Barack Obama spoke. I didn’t go as an Obama supporter, I went as a conflicted liberal. I didn’t like Hillary Clinton and I felt guilty about it. After worshipping at the Clinton Altar for so long (“You’re sure Bill can’t have a third term?” I had asked in 2000, “Can’t we at least discuss it?”) I knew that I should like Hillary, should support her, should be thrilled at least to have a woman in the White House be a possibility. But I didn’t, couldn’t, and was, but . . . did she have to be the woman? (Couldn’t we at least discuss it?) So I went to the rally on a whim, tagging along with my friend just so that I could say I had done it and maybe to see what this Obama guy was really like.

Governor Gregoire spoke before him. She had just come out publicly in support of Obama, either that morning or the night before, and it had been a top news story on our way to the rally. She spoke openly about having hope as a Democrat in today’s world. She said that it was okay to hope, because this time we really had a chance for change. The old regime was on its way out. (She and Obama both spoke about this as if it were 100% guaranteed and while that may seem obvious, that third-term idea has come back to haunt me lately. Funny how it sounds good from one side but not the other.)

I’m used to hearing my friends complain about how horrible things are and we’ve all talked about whether or not it’s safe to hope for change (consensus: not). This is old news. But there was something about hearing the Governor say it — maybe because she’s a woman in a position of power, or a local-and-therefore-real public figure, or more of an “adult” than me and my slacktastic friends whose “drinking and bitching” to “political organizing” ratio is about 100,000 to 1 – whatever the reason, something about her saying these things touched me. It opened me up to the possibility of hope and this scared me, so I cried a tiny bit, tamped the dirt back down hard and backed away.

When Obama took the stage I was resistant and critical. He was clearly a skilled speaker, but I could see through that. His opening remarks sounded like a list of everyone whose support he needed; an Oscar thank-you speech in reverse. Then he started on the issues and it was unbelievable. 98% of the things he said were right on. (There were two things where I paused and thought, “No, that’s a little too far for me . . . well, okay.” I was swept up in the power of his words.) Critical thinking time was over. The man was promising a liberal’s paradise. I screamed, clapped, jumped to my feet, and just about the time I first thought the words “liberal’s paradise” came back to earth. He couldn’t do these things. They wouldn’t let him.

As if his speechwriter were reading my mind, Obama then launched into specific rebuttals of all his recent criticism including the idea that these things were not possible. I wish I could remember exactly what he said because I know I won’t do it justice. He said that he’d been accused of being a “hopemonger” and that was fine with him – somebody had to bring it. He said that anytime in history people have made a difference it began with one individual daring to hope for a better world. He said that he couldn’t do it alone; no one person could possibly ever do it alone, and that was why he needed us. He said all these things and more and he was 100% right.

So nearly one week ago in the Key Arena a tiny green sprig of hope pushed its way up through the blighted soil of my heart. It hurt. It still makes me cry. I’m scared and I’m vulnerable and I am ready. Because we are the adults now. No one else is going to take care of this for us. Three years ago a good friend told me the answer was Revolution. Before I take that route I’m going to do a lot of gardening and give democracy one last whole-hearted try.

Published inCurrent Affairs

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