Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dreams Do Come True

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

Martin Luther King, Aug. 28, 1963

From my room in Berkeley, I watched the TV screen as Preacher King delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Two months before, I'd watched Gov. George Wallace block the admission of black students at the University of Alabama. The following year, during "Freedom Summer," the campaign to register blacks to vote in Mississippi, I watched the news to learn of the deaths of four civil rights workers, the beating of 80 volunteers, the bombing of 30 black-owned businesses and homes and the burning of 37 churches in an attempt to prevent the implementation of equality in America. Last night I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States.

To quote Jackie Gleason and James Taylor: How sweet it is!

I'd been cautiously hopeful about Obama since his election in November. But I also feared that he had perhaps made too many compromises with the Devil to get elected, that his move to the center and away from his earlier progressive positions on the left was designed to placate powerful corporate and ideological forces on the right. He drew too heavily for his appointments from the Clinton clique, a group more devoted to global control and profits than the plight of the poor. Most troubling was his apparent knee-jerk support of Israel. I've come to believe that the problem of "terrorism" in the world today started in Palestine with the Zionist terror groups that forced the world to give them land already occupied by Arabs as a "homeland" for the Jews. So long as President Obama and his administration subscribe to that dogma, world peace is an illusion.

It was after midnight in Bangkok when I watched his inauguration speech from the steps of the Capital in Washington. Afterwards, the CNN pundits faulted him for a lack of lofty rhetoric, and for the absence of a memorable quote, like Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," from JFK's 1961 address. Before the speech, I'd grown sick and weary of the word "historic" which was overused by TV commentators to describe the first inauguration of a African-American to the presidency, as if history only meant the unusual rather than the significant. Obama is, after all, only black on his father's side of the family. But the tears in the faces of the half-frozen crowd of several million in Washington testified to the meaningfulness of finally allowing a member of a former slave race to lead the country. Will women be next?

Obama's speech did not particularly light my fire, but I downloaded and printed a copy of it from CNN's web site. On each reading of it, I became more and more impressed. He uses the word "I" only three times in the early moments of the speech, once to admit his humility, again to thank Bush for the smooth transition, and finally to make this promise:
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
That was in the beginning. From then on the new president speaks only of "we" and "us." Like Kennedy, Obama calls on Americans to "embody the spirit of service," to to be willing to "find meaning in something greater than themselves." This "new era of responsibility" is characterized by kindness, selflessness and courage. America's "ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart," he said, "is the surest route to our common good." I am greatly encouraged to hear the term "common good" reenter public discourse, replacing the "me first" ethos of previous administrations.

It was a somber speech. "We are in the midst of crisis," he reiterated. The nation is at war, the economy is badly weakened, "a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices." Bush, seated nearby, must have been squirming in his seat. Cheney, in a wheel chair from a moving accident, looked glum. Obama continued with the litany of crisis: homes lost, jobs shed, businesses closed, health care too costly, the education system wrecked.

Then he itemized the consequences to the environment: "The ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet." He also spoke of "the specter of a warming planet," and, amazingly, said that we can no longer "consume the world's resources without regard to effect." When was the last time you heard a politician admit that? He also mentioned the need to develop alternative energies from the sun, wind and soil. Environmentalism is back in fashion.

There was much talk of restoration, or a return to values that had been forgotten. "We will restore science to its rightful place" (no more Creationism!), and only by spending wisely, reforming bad habits, and doing our business in the light of day "can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government." There was also little said about racism, except to ponder the miracle that "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

Government, for Obama, will be a help rather than a hindrance (the Republican mantra). "The stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works." Even government is back in fashion! What else can protect us from financial predators? "This crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous." It's no longer fashionable to be rich!

In international relations, Obama will rely on "sturdy alliances, and "even greater cooperation and understanding between nations." He made a firm break with the Bush doctrine by saying "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." The rule of law is more important that a tortured confession. He addressed "the Muslim world" directly and said "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." The word "terrorism (war on)" was never uttered. He promised help for poor nations and reminded "nations like ours" that "we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders." American must grow up, he said, quoting 1st Corinthians: "The time has come to set aside childish things."

In conclusion, Obama quoted George Washington who said, when the American Revolution looked bleak, that "nothing but hope and virtue could survive." In the "face of our common danger," Obama echoed, "in this winter of our hardship," only hope and virtue will help us to say: "We carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

I'm very happy that President Obama is on his way toward reversing the destruction of the Bush years. I will be watching his actions and looking at his developing policies very closely. It sounds like a new day might be dawning in America and the world is certainly ready for that. For now, I will continue to watch the drama unfold from the sanctuary I have found in Thailand.

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