Monday, November 3, 2008

An Open Note to President-Elect Obama

Well done. A decisive victory. Yes, you did.

And, if I may, I just want to give you a few words of advice for the job you will soon be taking on:

Don't screw it up.

And I mean this not so much in a policy way (although, yes, it would be nice if just once, when a party takes control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the party doesn't go off the deep end with an agenda advanced by party radicals, rather than a more moderate approach), I mean it in a more intangible way.

You've run on hope. It looks pretty stupid when I see it on the screen, but, in a lot of ways, it's true. People voted for you because they genuinely believed that you're different; that you're capable of leading this country in a better direction; that you're not just another Washington politician. You've galvanized the youth, and many of my own generation, in a way I've never actually seen before.

Let me put it this way: I was born in 1968. My political awareness pretty much started with Nixon's resignation. And from then on, it has never been in fashion to really like the government and the dude heading up the Executive Branch. Whether the President has been a Republican or a Democrat, cynicism has been the preferred attitude toward the man in the oval office. And you've managed to undo that -- to get people to actually feel positive about you and our nation's future. "The Audacity of Hope" indeed.

Now the problem is -- that's one hell of a campaign promise to deliver on.

We've been screwed on this once before. Bill Clinton gave my generation a glimmer of hope that he was actually one of us -- when he campaigned on MTV, played his sax on Arsenio Hall's show, and admitted smoking pot. But he quashed that hope -- long before he started hitting on externs -- as early as when he signed his first bill into law as President. Because he wasn't "Bill" anymore; he was "William Jefferson Clinton" -- and that was when I first realized that I'd been played, and that Bill was just some character he'd used to get my vote.

People believe in you, Barack (can I call you Barack?) -- and you've encouraged that, with rousing speeches and "Yes we can." It's pretty remarkable, when you think about it, that you've actually got otherwise cynical people believing in government, especially given the fairly crappy situation in which this country finds itself. But now that you've done that, it is vitally important that you deliver. It isn't just about getting the economy out of the dumpster, getting a decent exit strategy on the war in Iraq, finding alternative sources of energy, and dealing with looming foreign policy crises (although, of course, that would be nice). It's about the fact that you've got a nation's faith in you and in the idea that if we vote the right person into office, that person will act honorably and decently, and be someone we can actually be proud to call our President.

And if you betray that belief, Lord only knows when any of us will ever try hoping again.

Do not screw this up.


cw2smom said...

Well said!! LOVE this!! I did not vote for Obama, but I wish him well. It's exciting to be living in this historical time, yet scary as well! I pray for our nation and that Obama can deliver. God knows we need some change after the Bush years!

neil said...

I was thinking similar things last night, even as his acceptance speech seemed to temper the promise-the-world rhetoric of his campaign.

"The road ahead will be long. our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term ..."

"There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know the goverment can't solve every problem."

He's set the expectations bar high, and pulled so many people into believing. I fear that if he doesn't live up to that, he will drag an entirely new generation into a cynical disgust of government.