Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a New Day

I'm a professionally trained historian. I'm supposed to remain objective about things. I should be even-handed and weigh all the evidence from all points. I should not set out when writing anything historical with a conclusion already mind. But it is impossible for me to remain objective today. The sense of relief I feel with Bush out of the White House and no longer in a position to do us harm is palpable.

I said from the very beginning of Bush's first stolen term in office that he and the people around him were dangerous. And everything his administration did from the time he started till the time he finished simply underscored what an accurate prophet I was about that.

I never did mean to refer simply to the foreign entanglements that Bush was likely to get us involved with. (He certainly didn't disappoint us there, did he?) No. What I feared was what might happen to us people if we did not agree with the administration. I always fear true believers, ideologues, who by definition are correct beyond the ability of counter-argument or reason to deter. So what I thought was truly dangerous about these people was what they were likely to do to dissenters. I've seen already what a government can do with dissent.

It turns out that I was a bit paranoid about this. There weren't mass arrests or detentions. But Bush did have people snatched off the streets of the US and shipped overseas to be tortured; he did have them captured and jailed (often there to be mistreated) without formal charges and without benefit of counsel; he did wire tap the phone conversations of American citizens; he and his cronies, some of the highest officials in the government, approved the use of torture to extract information from people. Moreover, there are doubtless other crimes he and his people committed that have not come to light yet. Indeed, it may be for historians to uncover those.

The sense of relief I feel is buoyed tremendously by the kind of person Barack Obama is. Whereas George W. Bush is the spoiled son of rich father, who was given everything he ever got and who failed at every job he ever had, Obama knows about real life. Poverty is no stranger to him; his mother was one time on welfare. He knows about hard work, and he knows about the struggles ordinary people must wage. He's worked to better the lives of poor people. It's tremendously comforting to have somebody like this in the White House.

And the relief I feel about having a man who can actually think sitting in the Oval Office, a man who had Yo Yo Ma and Itzack Perlman play and Aretha Franklin sing at his inaugural . . . well, that's better than chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. That poet Elizabeth Alexander followed right after the oath of office with a fine poem . . . that was a second helping.

I have had differences with Obama's policy decisions before, and I will certainly have them again. But for today, I just want to luxuriate in the feeling of hope, joy, and pride I have about new president and yes, even our government. This is a rare thing for me. I have to confess that I had a tears a few times watching the inaugural today. It's a new day indeed when something about politics makes me cry.
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