I broke my vow to myself. I’m back before Tuesday, but I’d like to think you’ll forgive me as this post is relevant to this weekend’s MLK theme.
Just finished watching President Obama’s second inaugural. I really can’t describe how proud I am to live in an America that elected, and then re-elected, a black man as President. Here’s where my conservatives will probably be saying “Ah ha! So, it’s true, you voted for him because he’s black.” Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not the case. If Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens player and black) was running for dogcatcher, let alone President, I wouldn’t vote for him. If Beyonce was running for President, I wouldn’t vote for her. Now, if she were … well, never mind.
My point is, it’s not the color of the President’s skin that matters, it is as Martin Luther King suggested almost fifty years ago, the content of his character.
Back in the 80’s, I voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1984 and 1988 Democratic primaries. Why? Again, not because he was black, but because he gave a speech somewhere along the way that just turned me upside down, and then at the 1984 Democratic convention, he upped it a few hundred notches with a thundering oration that brought me to tears. Besides all that, what were my choices in those primaries – Mondale and Dukakis? Um, no thanks. I wanted passion and energy, dreams and hope. Jesse Jackson offered that. That was when I was young and a dreamer, believing in the possibility of the ideal.
I still have some of that in me, but as is typical when we age, I’ve become more practical, I think. What I want rather than a visionary (even if I still want that a bit) is a President who is an adult.
Think back to 2008. I can’t deny that Hillary Clinton was qualified to serve as President, but I don’t like political dynasties. I couldn’t imagine the benefit to our country if we went from four years of Bush, to eight years of Clinton, to eight years of Bush, to four or eight years of Clinton, and then probably another Bush after that. I wanted an end to the ownership of the Presidency by families. As well, as much as I respected Bill Clinton and his accomplishments as President, I didn’t need the drama of a Clinton presidency again.
Into the gap stepped Barack Obama, who demonstrated all of the things I wanted in a President. Responsibility. Humility. Consistency. Steadiness. In a room full of children, Barack Obama seemed to be the lone adult. After the nominating conventions, it came down to him or John McCain, who, as a counterpoint to Barack Obama’s steadiness, showed an amazing lack of maturity and responsibility.
It was a no-brainer in November 2008. Not because Barack Obama was black, but because of who he was. How he ran his campaign. The words he spoke. The ideas he shared. And, yes, in the glow of the election and his victory, he even spoke to my need for a bit of a visionary. He offered a vision of hope.
Over the past four years he has remained the adult in that roomful of children. And enough Americans saw through the hysteria of the election to re-elect him. There was a paragraph during his speech this morning that hit home with me because it gets right to the point of what is wrong with America these days.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
This statement defines more than anything else the divide we have here. After decades of a common understanding that the social safety net – affordable quality education, social security for retirement, unemployment for unexpected crises, medical care for the poor and the disabled, etc. — provided security to people so they could live their lives, take risks, spend money, grow the economy, become stronger, healthier and more successful, we have a sizable segment of our population who believe that the safety net is for takers and leeches. They can’t possibly see, in their selfish little world, how their own lives will improve if the lives of those around are at risk. I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to understand the truth behind “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
That was a bit of a diversion from the main point of this post. Which was this. America re-elected a black man to the Presidency. What is clear to me as a result is that enough Americans have got past the meaningless insignificance of skin color and were able to look inside and see what mattered – to put into action Martin Luther King’s dream that one day his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. It’s a great day for America. I only wish those who so virulently oppose the President could see that.
Here’s hoping that the next four years will not be like the last four – a primal scream of rage at the idea that “their” country elected a black man as President. Here’s hoping that the next four years will instead be about coming together as Americans, not red or blue, black or white, but as Americans working together to solve our common problems. Because, yes, they are common problems. The wealthiest of us must worry about the poorest, while the poorest must take responsibility as well. There is a common good we should be striving for – a ground we can all walk on without fear.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., said
“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”