Monday, November 17, 2008

Hope is fine, but it is integrity that we need most

The lawn signs linger.

I took my own down last week and stored it in the basement. I've saved the front page of The Boston Globe, too. I couldn't find a New York Times. They were old sold out by 9 a.m. the day after election.

No wonder. This country will only elect its first African-American (make that mixed race) president once. But Barack Obama's race has next to nothing to do with why I'm starting a new blog during his transition to the presidency. This will be an historic presidency of necessity, not skin color. My TIAA-CREF retirement account says some stocks have dropped more than 50 percent. Nearly all are down 40. And I'm among the truly lucky. I have a job. I have full health insurance. My cars are paid up. My mortgage is fixed. And no one hurls insults at me because of my surname, my skin color, my sexual preference or -- for now at least -- my politics.

Those politics, let me say up front, are liberal, same as they've been the last 40 years. Back then, in the late '60s, friends would chide me for being too tepid, not radical enough. I wasn't much of a marcher, though I admired the spine of those who were. And now in the 21st century? At least until this most recent election, I've felt like a lonely lefty, somewhere on the fringe for such radical thoughts as believing in the Constitution, its Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions, for believing America has no right to arrest people and throw away the key, that it has no right to bomb those who haven't bombed us first, that our government has a role -- an important one -- in doing good, in helping the poor, the less fortunate, the less able to help themselves.

For all the euphoria about Barack Obama, those who share my views shouldn't be fooled or complacent. Plenty of people don't agree. I see the lawn signs lingering, as many of them in some neighborhoods for McCain-Palin as for Obama-Biden. While the latter may be a celebration (or a bit of "for once I'm the winner"), the former unmistakably speak to me of home-owners and voters who have no intention of giving ground, no intention of embracing a new order, no intention of switching the channel from Fox. And I live in Massachusetts. I'd love to get a peek at the lingering lawn signs in Selma, Ala., or Laredo, Texas.

Still, I'm hoping this administration doesn't waste its time counting those signs.
If Barack Obama wants to govern from the middle, to bring Republicans into his Cabinet, I respect his decency and his effort to change the politics of disparagement. It is a reasonable approach -- so long as the Obama Administration also governs with integrity. I hope his economic plan starts with a stimulus package for working Americans; I'm tired of everyone wringing their hands for the fat cats. But even more, I hope his administration makes a statement -- on Day 1, as Hillary Clinton likes to say -- by closing Guantanamo, by making clear that torture has no place in America's leadership, by announcing the beginning of plans to extricate ourselves from Iraq.

To me, those gestures are more important than which Democratic ally will fill the seat of secretary of state. They say more than a speech about American ingenuity or a commitment to listen to the people.

And they require no act of Congress. Barack Obama has a long agenda and little money to pursue it. But he can take a big step toward reviving and restoring America's place in the world with just a few, timely, well-framed little words. I can't wait to hear them.

1 comment:

johnwilpers said...

Great first post, Jerry!

I agree that an immediate, concrete act, like closing Guantanamo, will set the tone for the beginning of his administration for the rest of the world (remember, "The whole world is watching..."?).

That would begin the process of, as you say, "reviving and restoring America's place in the world."

As my daughters have both told me, "Daddy, I'm really proud of my country." I'd like to continue to be proud, and you've laid out the course.

Welcome to the blogosphere! You're going to be a great addition.