Personal change and political change, a recap and celebration

Where in the world has Emilie been?

So I fully intended to write a blog responding to the inauguration, was super excited about so many things that day. However, in addition to that good kind of excitement, the rest of the day was devoted to a lot of personal emotional highs and lows. It seemed like drama and emotion was coming at me from every angle and all at once. I did get to cap the evening with a drink to toast President Obama with some friends and that was nice, to come back round to that excitement.

I’m kinda surrounded by President Obama at the moment. I’ve been reading Dreams From My Father for some time now. It’s a brilliant achievement in and of itself, but reading it while knowing that the author became America’s president a few years later is pretty cool. I’m consistently amazed at Obama’s storytelling ability, impressed as a writer studying another writer. And I’m fascinated at how troubled and conflicted he is in the book, that he’s brave enough to demonstrate that. And awed at how fluently he describes things I feel every day and struggle to capture.

Additionally, he’s been on pretty much every cover of Newsweek and Time Magazine lately, or at least it seems so. C., my out-going roommate subscribed to both of those, so I got to peek at his copies when they came in the mail. I believe he was even prominent in EW, which is the mag I subscribe to. A few days after the inauguration, I remember grabbing several magazines and DFMF and laying them out on my desk, suddenly struck by the fact that Obama was featured in and on every one. Luckily, I’m happy to be so surrounded. But it’s gotta be tough to be so exposed. I think this is going to have to subside a bit or we’ll all get a little overwhelmed, even and especially President Obama himself.

Right after the inauguration, I planned to break down my favorite portions of his speech, to discuss my feelings and opinions quite leisurely and completely. But since some time has passed, I’ve come to feel that words are largely inadequate to describe everything I’ve thought since the inauguration completely. There will be no completeness – I can’t blog once and finally about this. It’ll crop up later, I’m now quite confident.

In an opening summation, I feel like the speech hit all the right notes. We need to celebrate Obama’s historic presidency, but we also need to get to work right away. So many of us have such faith in him, faith that he can bring about at least some of the change that we need. But for that faith to work, we need to give him time and have patience and he needs to roll up his sleeves and begin immediately. His speech delivered a confidence that he knows this and is ready, while also celebrating what we have already achieved just by choosing this man for the job. His election stands already as a vote of confidence in our future, a willingness to embrace change and each other.

I was rapt for the entire speech, but my favorite parts were mostly toward the end.

– “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

– “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

– “And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.”

– “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; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass…”

– “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” [By far, my favorite moment of the speech.]

– “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

Read the entire text of the speech here.

Newsweek‘s latest issue commemorates the inauguration and I very much enjoyed the quotes at the end from artists, actors and writers. “What Obama Means to Me” in the Voices section is a must read. Here are some of my favorite parts.

“The United States, a country that (to borrow from Kanye) never really cared about black people, has elected a positive, liberal, non-self-loathing black man to the most powerful office on the planet! WTF?! Who besides the science-fiction writers and the producers of 24 and the most optimistic among us could have imagined this? …. I grew up in a world where people in power didn’t look anything like me. I grew up in an America that didn’t reflect me at all, where I was therefore a ghost. …. India and Matteo, though, will grow up in a world where the most powerful man reflects them back, at least in part. This might mean nothing. It might mean everything. But for the first time in human history we’ll have a chance to find out.” – Junot Diaz

“He is a person whose head and heart are connected, who sees people as linked rather than ranked…” – Gloria Steinem

“The world can put faith in our elections. We finally picked the most qualified man.” – Wynton Marsalis [Despite my desire to someday have a woman president, I actually think we finally picked the most qualified PERSON this time around.]

“…and for the first time in the lives of a lot of white Americans, and maybe even Latino Americans and Asian-Americans, there is going to be a black person in their midst on a daily basis. And over the course of time, gradually, they’re not going to see his color, and certainly won’t focus on it. They’re going to see him as Obama. His race is going to disappear. And in and of itself, that’ll be a tremendous revelation: that, to quote the Muppet movie, ‘people is people.'” – Scott Turow

“He’s a very smart guy. I’m sure he will eventually get that his beliefs should not infringe upon my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The same way he fell in love with a beautiful woman and had the right to marry her, I should be able to do the same.” – Wanda Sykes

“He is not a black man. He is a black man and a white man. That’s running in his blood, and this is important. It’s a symbol of the bringing together of two sides…” – Nadine Gordimer

“When we look at Obama we see our own possibility. When we look at ourselves in the mirror of our new leader, we aren’t looking for a single simple narrative to take our differences away. We know that’s not real. We know how complex we are. Maybe we didn’t realize how ready we were to accept our complexity.” – Anna Deavere Smith

“Obama means a world I never thought would come to pass. At least not with me here to see it.” – Sidney Poitier

“I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.” – Barack Obama from his “A More Perfect Union” speech (near the end of the Newsweek issue).

For the record, I couldn’t find any of the Commemorative Inaugural Edition online so I could link to it – I think Newsweek‘s trying to keep it special so people will buy the issue to commemorate the event. I recommend you do so, cause I only selected partial quotes and there was a lot of cool stuff in the issue.

Right after the inauguration, I was talking with anybody who’d listen and started musing over an Obama/Superhero analogy. Because he’s become an important historic figure and such a pop icon (so relatively quickly), I think it’s important that we keep things in perspective. I’m not so worried about President Obama himself – anyone looking at his family can see they’ve got that covered. Now for my superhero comparisons, let’s take the various movie editions because they’re the ones the greatest majority (including me) are more fluent in, because they’re the pop culture result of another pop culture entertainment format that often embodies a lot of psychology and philosophy.

Batman – At first, I thought Obama and Batman are only shallowly related because of the Chicago/Gotham City aspect. Batman is essentially a vigilante and that goes against my vision of Obama. But then I found this blog discussing Obama and politics in relation to the newest Batman movie and I thought it was interesting. It made me think maybe they do have more in common. Batman has no powers and has to use the resources he does have to compensate in order to protect Gotham – intelligence, cleverness, money. And then I remembered an EW piece I read where Obama and McCain were asked their favorite superheros and Obama said, “‘The guys who have too many powers, like Superman, that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy. Whereas Spider-Man and Batman, they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.”

Which brings us to Superman – Superman is iconic of America and though he grew up here and protects America, he’s from elsewhere, Krypton. He was sent here in order to give him the opportunity to survive and thrive, but he remains an insider/outsider. Though American, Obama was raised in Hawaii (at the time a new addition) and Indonesia, his father and many of his family members are from Africa. Like Superman (Kansas), Obama was influced by the midwest (Illinois/Chicago). As Superman can treasure and come to embody American ideals, Obama is an insider who has the perspective of an outsider, who can truly value America because he can see it for what it is, both positive and negative.

And finally, Spider-Man – Remember when Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man gets full of himself from all of the acclaim and attention? Remember how he is brought low? Sometimes the public depicts him as a villain himself. The lesson this should teach us, President Obama included (though I suspect he knows it), is that Spider-Man is a man who does great things. Sometimes he messes up, sometimes he saves us. Despite a superhero’s superhuman status, the essentially function to remind us about human qualities. We need to allow President Obama his humanity, value and respect him, appreciate all that he has done, is doing and will do for this country and our global community. We need to have faith and give him time and we need to keep this pop-frenzy in check so that we do not lose sight of the man within the image, the legend.

So I smile when I see Barack Obama’s face everywhere, but I worry too. We’ll get it right, I know. When it’s hard to have faith, I have faith in President Obama’s humanity and in his awareness of ours.

The economy is troubled and rapid, vast change is underfoot. Ironically but probably appropriately, my life mirrors this. Whenever change happens in my life, it usually comes from all directions and all at once. That is the case now. I was a little preoccupied the past few weeks, but I hope to be writing here regularly again.

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2 Comments

Filed under politics, pop culture, random rant

2 responses to “Personal change and political change, a recap and celebration

  1. Mary

    What do you think about all this now in the wake of the two nomination withdrawals? Especially the moment where Obama left the White House lectern this morning, after responding to the withdrawals, ignoring the shouted question about why so many of his nominees have tax problems.

    Personally I suspect the reason is that ALL politicians have these kinds of problems, and Obama’s strict ethics rules and vetting process are exposing way more of them than ever before.

    But I don’t know that.

    Still, it’s sad to think about what must have been going through his head as he was leaving that lectern: the frustration.

  2. Emilie

    Yeah, that’s super frustrating and annoying. BUT, I think I’d rather see candidates resigning left and right *now* than have people with fishy taxes in powerful positions and finding out about it later.

    In that vein, you could say Louisiana’s just better at “exposing” rampant corruption rather than more corrupt than another other state…

    …Except in Obama’s case, I think it’s true. I like your “Obama’s strict ethics rules and vetting process” theory. Works for me. 🙂

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