Saturday, January 2, 2010

What Might Have Been..What Could Yet Be...A New Year's Day Journal

Can one be realistic and hopeful at the same time?  I saw this picture, and wondered if 2010 would be a year of reckoning for our political system and global crises, or if there would be more of the same gnawing anxiety and disappointment I've experienced of late.  I want so badly to remain optimistic.

I took this candid photo of Mark on November 5, 2008, one day after the election of President Obama. 

I saw Mark searching the horizon, contemplating a vast sky of endless possibility, a river to explore, a bridge to cross....

We were in Tempe Arizona for a brief vacation, having voted early in our home state of Illinois.  What an ironic moment for us both, missing the huge victory celebration back home in Chicago, also Obama's hometown, while we waited, in McCain's home state, with our breaths held, for the returns. We screamed with joy and relief as the results came in.  And from our neighbors around us, silence....

The evening was characterized by the excitement of fitting in, of having our voices heard, of the triumph of science and reason, after eight agonizing years; it was also the fear of something going terribly wrong, and the threat of irrationality, and social and scientific regression, if the results went the other way.

My journal was strangely reticent...I wrote "around" the election, instead of commenting head-on.  I wanted to write about what lie underneath, about the almost ominous quietness of post-election day in Arizona, an undertone of caution--of guarded optimism--I wanted to describe the tranquility we both enjoyed, having borne the exhaustion of the endless campaigns, and survived the long, polarizing election......

From my journal:

--Election day, late afternoon: "Packed sandwiches, chips, grapes, water and drove to Tempe Beach State Park and sat on a bench near the Tempe Center for the Arts for a picnic supper.  The cool breeze, rattling the leaves in the young trees near us, and the long shadows cast by the late afternoon sun, recalled memories of Kodak photos of the past, a golden light shed on the whole scene...."

--The day after: "Rose early to catch news coverage of last night's election...John McCain's concession speech at the Arizona Biltmore, 3 miles from where we sat last night...Barack Obama's acceptance speech to 250,000 in Grant Park (as though an absolution for the riots at the Democratic Convention, on that very spot, 30 years ago...)...
Mark and I took a bench at Tempe Beach Park, across from the KPMG building, the company where my father worked, and retired 30 years ago...My father, a stalwart Republican, voted for Obama....Mark and I wrote in our journals (I'm writing this now, from this spot, and I just took Mark's photo).  Cool breeze, lawn behind us being mowed, water moving determinedly in the canal across the running path in front of us...."

2009 was the year for Barack Obama. It was a year  with the promise that intelligence, rational thought, peace, and pride would prevail.

I have been caught up in disappointments....I felt then that those who voted for Obama did so in good faith that an articulate and reasonable leader, with majorities in both houses, could get work done, without asking the permission of those who were doing everything to ensure his failure. 

Mark Barabak in the LA Times today published a piece about how the
GOP is poised for a comeback in the mid-year elections.  According to the article, "the results could hamper President Obama's legislative efforts as he prepares to seek reelection and reshape the political landscape for a decade beyond, as lawmakers redraw congressional and state political boundaries to reflect the next census."

I was finally happy to place my trust in someone who I felt represented my true feelings and beliefs, who was able to persuade, and to rally the energies of good-minded people to do amazing things.  So I was unprepared for the small betrayals along the way.  I think about how ideas like the public option, ending a dishonest war, and protection for gay rights in marriage and the military somehow got turned around; and that I, and people like me, were seen as merely "seeking perfection as the enemy of good".  I wasn't prepared to see hard-fought battles and promises compromised in the name of claiming "victory".  Was the leader I supported selling out and discarding his ideals? Could I accept his changes in direction and trust his first-hand assessments? or was I a victim of a bait and switch?   I read pundits and editorials, on all sides, doing my best to weed out the purely ideological, and found serious questions from those whose opinions I admired. 

I thought of the alternative, McCain/Palin, and admitted that in some ways we are so much better off than we could have been....aren't we? At least the Obama administration does not seem to be legislating on the basis of superstition and ancient prophecies, or backing down to special interests.. Right?  Is there a place for ideals in modern politics, no matter who's in? 

Yeah, I'm naive.....I knew then and still do that the world doesn't work that way, yet I believed, symbolically anyway, this was our last best chance for positive progress in my lifetime. 

Am I willing to let go of that and succumb to total cynicism?   Can I follow my better nature and believe that the world can be better?  What will I do this year to address that in a meaningful way?  Will I ever vote again?? Those questions I pondered as I looked at a couple of  photos I found of the victory rally in Grant Park, and remembered the feeling of complete happiness, sitting on that bench with Mark on that Arizona November morning.


  1. We were all had. If anything I've grown even more and more cynical about the political process in this country. It's so fixed and corrupted by corporate interest money no change will ever be possible through any election. I wish I could leave the US for good!

  2. Stan,
    I am so pleased to have you visit, and comment!
    I feel your frustration, but hope you will stay in the US, because we need strong voices like yours, and the more the better.
    Hope you will make this a regular destination!

  3. Tom, I too feel abandoned and betrayed by Obama, but I wonder if it is so much the man himself that has turned his back on the ideals and promises of a great future that energized the masses to elect him or if it was the Republican's dirty tricks and obstructionism that has laid low his plans and forced crucial legislation like health care reform to be watered down to the point of uselessness and stalemate. I want to believe the man and that he is a victim of the political process, but in either case, we are still ahead of the game with McCain and Palin sitting on the sidelines.

  4. There is no such thing as a perfect president. Even the great presidents all had faults and/or made serious mistakes. Obama is doing as good a job as possible under the polluted atmosphere that is Congress.

    I argue that both political parties are the problem. I blame the political fatcats who have their hands in the pot, so to speak, for the watering down of health care. Especially that scumbag Leiberman (apologies for the curse, but I detest Barnacle Joe the Senator)

    I do think Obama and his attorney general are out of their minds to hold the terror trial, not just in NY, but a trial, period! And I also think Obama should have shaken up both the Secret Service and Homeland Security after the pair of incidents that closed out the year.

  5. Tom and Bill,
    I appreciate your honest comments and feedback. It's never easy to have second thoughts about anything you at first regarded with such enthusiasm. My musings are in a state of flux, and I enjoy the insights you can provide, to strenghten my own thinking. Thank you!