Thursday, January 15, 2009

Change is Coming; I'll be There

The Inauguration is less than a week away, and I predict that this will be a change unlike any other in my lifetime.

I have had the good fortune, historically speaking, to be present for some very dramatic and even Earth-changing events. When I was seven, President Kennedy's assassination changed the political course of our nation in a most direct way, as did the killings of his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King. I was present for the beginning of the human adventure into space and sitting in front of a television when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. I waited in line for and attended a session of the Watergate hearings and watched on television when Nixon resigned on my brother's birthday a year later. I had a similar seat--in front of the tube--when the Berlin Wall was torn down and there again like so many millions when the towers of the World trade Center in New York were destroyed. I was also here for the creation of the Internet which, whether or not it was created by Al Gore, neatly coincided with his two terms as Vice-President. Not so coincidentally, since I believe that there was a direct connection between the two phenomena, I was here for the greatest peacetime expansion of the U.S. economy during President Clinton's two terms in office.

Not all of the items on that little laundry list of world/life-changing events are of equal value, of course. Certain events have more weight because of when they happened to me, so to speak, even though none of them really happened to me directly. Though it is indeed a suspiciously self-aggrandizing and conveniently synchronistic in that I am going, claiming that Barak Obama's Inauguration is the most significant event--not merely political--of my lifetime is not hyperbole.

It can be argued that this is merely a political transition, and as such it is no more important than any other, in any nation; that being precisely its limiting factor. If this were any other nation, at any other time it history, it would be no more than any other televised ritual. But this is not just any nation, and this is not just any other inauguration in my lifetime.

I had hopes, when Mr. Clinton left us--so prosperous but embarrassed--that his successor, Mr. Gore, would lead us into the new century with an enlightened vision not unlike that of the intellectuals and philosophers who help create this this most magnificent political and social experiment in the first place. I believe that Mr. Gore won the election and that it was only his sense of honor that kept him from scrapping and screaming the way I would have, and the nation is in some ways better for that sense of honor and commitment to do right by the country even at great personal cost. It is telling that the paths of the two men, Gore and Bush, diverged in the way that they did. I feel certain that in spite of winning the Nobel Prize and satisfying his lifelong desire to make a difference in the world by drawing attention to global warming, Mr. Gore would rather have been President, such has been the deep disappointment in the path we have been forced to follow. My hopes were put on hold.

I had hopes again, a mere four years later, when the American people were beginning to change their collective minds after relentless tiny constrictions to the basic rights we had come to treasure in the name of a 'War on Terror'. Then, the clear signs of failure--despite banners declaring the 'Mission Accomplished'--of the first war of aggression ever to be fought by the U.S. made it seem like a simple choice between Kerry and Bush, but again, I had hopes deferred.

My hopes were set aside but not abandoned because, as corny as it sounds, I am a patriot. The United States is a unique human endeavor, a two-hundred plus year experiment that has been carried out by some of the most intelligent, industrious and, it turns out, dangerous people the planet has ever borne upon it.

This, as it turns out, is alright. Despite the ravages to the environment engendered by its highly successful market economy and the self-centered sense of entitlement that its citizens consequently possess, the U.S. has been such a clearly dominant physical and political force for so long that it now seems evident that despite those negative forces, the advantages that are naturally accrued from harnessing the collective self-interest of seemingly diverse individuals in a liberal social environment and conservative market economy are both historically significant and, fortunately for us all, cumulative. In spite of the alternating ridicule and adulation to which the American political system is subjected by its citizens and those of other nations, I believe that the culture from which those advantages have emerged has brought substantial change upon the human condition.

Because I share this belief with the man who is about to become our next President, and because Mr. Obama's ascendancy will return to me personally the sense of high honor and lawful dignity I have come to enjoy as my human right, I believe that this will indeed be one of those great turning points in the course of human events.