Nonetheless, I can't help but feel somewhat hopeful today. It's not just the inauguration of the first black President, though that alone is enough to make one hopeful about the progress made in race relations since Dr. King spoke of his great prophetic dream over 45 years ago. I am also hopeful because I honestly think Barack Obama will be a very good President. Nearly everything I've seen and read from him, I've been impressed by (and as a former Chicagoan, I've been following him quite a bit longer than most people from other parts of the country). Let me list just a few of the things that make me hopeful about him:
1) He's intelligent. By all accounts, he's the kind of guy who pays attention to details and really knows his stuff. In fact, he's a bit of a policy wonk from what I hear, which is a great thing in my book, since I want a President who goes beyond the speeches and rhetoric to pay attention to the specifics of what he is enacting.
2) So far he really has been a uniter, not a divider. That was his track record as a State legislator in Springfield, IL, and he has shown that same tendency in recent weeks as he's assembled his "team of rivals" for his cabinet, choosing people who don't always agree with him, but will give him more honest and diverse viewpoints to consider. He's also, on several recent occasions, expressed his openness to good ideas (especially in regards to fixing our economic crisis) no matter which side of the aisle they come from. I hope he keeps that up. And, besides his own actions, current polls show that he has an incoming approval rating of around 75%. Obviously the nation as a whole has largely come together behind this new president as well.
3) He really can, almost single-handedly, repair America's standing in the global community. It's no secret that Obama is practically a rockstar in many foreign countries. His name, his race, his personal story, not to mention his policies and positions, all speak to what is possible in this nation, and is inspirational to millions around the world. I hope this personal charisma will be combined with the new policies of openness and respect toward the rest of the world (no more of this unilateralism crap) to bring a new era of international cooperation.
4) Speaking of his personal story, I personally am given hope by the complexity of his background. Son of Kenyan and a white American, African-American in complexion (and therefore in the eyes of society as well) and yet raised by white relatives (and therefore more able than most to understand both perspectives), raised for a time in a foreign culture (and thus, once again, able to see the world through multiple different lenses), having given up a lucrative legal career to be a community organizer and use his skills to help those less fortunate... all of these experiences and more indicate to me that he is amply prepared to be exactly the kind of leader we need right now - someone able to weigh multiple viewpoints and competing truths, and choose a course based on what is good for all, not just for his own party, or even just his own nation. (BTW, for a great, and closer look at Obama's story, check out the new book by my friends Bob and Ariele, Barack Obama: An American Story.)
5) Obama's election campaign was one of the best I've ever seen. He raised his money (mountains of it) not from the usual cabal of special interest groups and lobbyists, but from millions and millions of ordinary Americans. He avoided the dirty politics and smear tactics that have become almost standard these days, even when his opponent was sinking to that level. By all accounts he listened to his campaign staff with respect, and yet was not controlled by them, sometimes sticking by his own convictions despite what might have seen most politically expedient (for example, his choice to respond to the Rev. Wright controversey by giving a substantive speech on race relations - written by himself, not a speechwriter - rather than just sweeping it under the rug as many pundits and advisors thought he should do). And through it all, he responded to every attack and every crisis with his usual implacable calm, cool-headedness. Let's hope he carries all these traits with him into running the country as well.
6) Not to mention that his wife is just really cool. Just as smart as he is and a lot funnier, though also as down-to-earth as you'd expect from a Midwestern mom from a working-class background, Michelle Obama will make a great First Lady.
And all this has mainly to do with who he is or what he's done in past. I won't even get into the things I'm hopeful about regarding his policies and campaign promises. All I want to say is that I think he is definitely the right person for this job right now. He is what America and the world needs at this moment, and while I know he will never be able to live up to all of our hopes, I don't think it is illegitimate to still be hopeful.
I also know that if Obama is going to fulfill any of these hopes it will have to be because we help him. As Jim Wallis often says (and as Obama has ripped off from him) "we are the ones we have been waiting for". Now that Obama is in office, it's time for all of us to get to work to fix the problems confronting us, and to make this world a better place, not just for Americans, but for the "least of these" all over the world. And that's one more thing I like about Obama - he's constantly reminding us of that fact. Over and over again in his campaign he referenced the fact that none of this was about him alone - it's about all of us pulling together and working together to realize our hopes. And I do have hope that that is possible.
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