Monday, January 26, 2009

Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

By ned * Other ned Posts

This past Wednesday I entered the middle of the right-center universe known as the Wednesday Meetings. Some have credited this institution, for which I was the minute taker, and my former boss, Grover Norquist, as being the enablers of the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Surprising to some, 24 hours earlier I was in the epicenter of Obamanation and the other side of the aisle.

Partially motivated by a desire to be a part of a historical moment, I trekked to DC for the Inauguration. The day would require that motivation to make it to “the moment.” On Tuesday I woke up at 4:30am, bundled myself in all of the layers and under armor that I could get my hands on, and walked with several friends to the Mall.

From that moment on, we were just waiting. Waiting for the sunrise of a new day and administration.

One could not help but be struck by the optimism in the air and collective focus on the now. The volunteer greeters we met showered us with ‘good mornings’ sweet enough to make Joan Cleaver appear morose. Once sedentary, people around would shush us so that they could pay attention to pre-recorded programming on the jumbo-tron. With all that energy and focus, everyone was looking for something … anything to let go of their excitement and distract them from the cold. That moment came in the form of a recording of Garth Brooks singing American Pie from the “We Are One” HBO Inauguration special.

Along with those of a contemporary flavor, anthems of the traditional American songbook could be heard ringing in the tubas and throats of people from the dome to the Lincoln memorial. I found this particularly interesting because joining in the chorus were internationals and non-conformists not typically known for their American fervor. Similarly, African-Americans were high in number and red, white and blue dress. They too were embracing a country whom has not always embraced them.

The only discouraging episode of the morning was the inevitable booing of the entrance of George W. Bush. No matter what your politics this time is a moment of respect for the office and, for the winners, dignified victory. But, if anything, the booing was indicative of the sentiments of the moment. The jeers represented all’s desire to cast aside the fear of September 11th and recent financial turmoil.

The challenge of the near future will be to maintain these positive spirits. In the event of another disaster (which, knock on wood, never happens), how will the nation react? Obama is championing a certain mindset in reaction to 9/11 governance and the tide might easily turn another way. My hope is that when faced with adversity we do not turn that direction into a false dichotomy of hope, optimism and mutual respect versus realism and suspicion as a way forward.

Perhaps the president elect has already thought of that. Unabashed, direct praise of pragmatism likely will give him flexibility to adjust to given the circumstances. Moreover, Obama’s address itself highlights how that mindset can be essential to overcoming misfortune:

“America: In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.”

I still believe in power and rights of the individual as central to right of center’s ideology. But, the sentiment of Obama’s speech are probably the main reason why this red state person was found in the midst of 1 million plus on January 20th. I too was singing from the patriotic songbook with the hippy I was rubbing elbows with. Both of us desired to revive American optimism. Both knowing it can guide us through these difficult times.

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The text of the Inaugural address:

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