Monday, January 05, 2009

What the inauguration means to me

I had a dream, a few nights ago. No, not Martin Luther King's kind! I dreamt I was in some small hotel, which nonetheless was the place where Michelle and Barack Obama were staying prior to the inauguration in ... San Francisco. Dreams do that, you understand!

San Francisco had these futuristic hotels - all exactly the same, evenly spaced like hotels from Monopoly along the north side of the Bay (which is not where San Francisco lies, relative to the Bay). And each had a roof just like that of the Denver airport - tented with white canvas peaks.

I put on glasses that allowed me to see forward in color, but which changed my peripheral vision to black and white, "so as not to distract me." It was a very odd dream, you understand.

But the only part that made sense was Michelle coming to sit at my table in some area of this small and not exactly upscale hotel. She came over and encouraged me to write my own story of what the inauguration means to me, and why I am going. Because I AM going. Got the flight, got the room, got the rain/snow/warm weather gear, and I've got the good energy. But Michelle encouraged me strongly to write, and in my dream, I did.

Shortly thereafter, Barack Obama came by, and Michelle said I should show him what I wrote. He wanted me to tell him instead - prefering the in-person exchange. And of course, as we so often do in these dreams, I drew a complete blank, and was horrified. Here was my chance, in person, to tell Barack Obama of my hopes for him as President, and I couldn't get it out.

I usually don't remember my dreams when I wake, but this one, which I dreamt somewhere between the midnight champagne and the sunrise hike to the top of Mt. Hollywood (yes, there really is such a thing) on New Year's day, demanded to stay in memory. And such persistence required a response.

So okay. Why am I so excited, fearful, joyous, and worried all at the same time? The short answer reads like this: history, history, history, and history.

I assume, however, that you and the Barack of my dream would prefer something a little more explicit. So here goes.

I am excited. This is the first time in my life my first choice even made it out of the primaries. That's pretty huge, right there.

I was terrified that our nominee would be Hillary Clinton, and that the right wing had a number of aces up their sleeve. They were, I felt, just salivating for a chance to go after her. I thought she was perhaps the only candidate we could field that had the power to unite the fragmented, disheartened Republican party in opposition.

And I was never really enthralled by the Clintons. I worked hard for former California Governor Jerry Brown's campaign in 1992, rather than support what I saw as the too-close-to-the-right-wing Clintons. I was hardly surprised, then, to see right wingers supporting Hillary. I felt they had a dual motive. First, they thought she would be easier to beat. And second, if she won, she'd still be more friendly to them than Obama.

And that's where my fear kicks in. What if I'm wrong? What if this man, who has such a good voting record, a real record of positive, progressive (if moderate) reform in the Illinois state legislature, becomes a sell-out once in office? It's possible. It happens to most.

Let's be honest. Most people can be bought. Those that can't be bought can often be compromised, and then threatened. In my experience, most people are only just so honest, and then they try to bend the rules for personal advantage.

I don't think Obama is without sin. I don't think he's a perfect man, at all. I'm sure we'll all learn something, or several things about him, that will eventually give us pause. But I also think he's very acutely aware of what indiscretions cost Bill Clinton, and has enough discipline and determination to avoid any events that might derail his agenda.

Because, unlike Clinton, Obama is, and is aware that he is, a historic figure. As the first president of both European and African descent (he's part Irish, remember!), he knows his every move will be scrutinized by history for generations to come. Entire rows of books will be devoted to his life, his works, his administration.

And whatever else you think about Obama, I believe one of his best attributes is that he aspires to greatness. Most people just aspire to be president. They don't aspire to be one of the great presidents. But Obama does, I believe. And that gives me hope. He may try, and fail. But I'd rather have one that aims high, rather than one who throws up his hands and says, oh well. Heck of a job, Brownie.

I am joyful that we have a man who takes being a father seriously. He's a fantastic role model to generations of men alive today, and those not yet born who will hear of him later. I love the way he stays involved in their lives, cares so much about them, really wants what's best. I know that his desire to protect their future will cause mine to be more fully protected. He's concerned about global warming and planetary health. He has to be, if he wants to someday meet his grandchildren.

I am also joyful that my country proved three things: that hope triumphs over fear, that racial barriers are dissolving, and that our system proved resistant enough to theft to allow the people, as opposed to election hackers, to choose our next President.

President Barack Obama. I can't wait to be there as he becomes President. As a Real History lover, it's amazing to be able to swim in the very history I enjoy writing about, to be there when this incredible moment occurs, the miracle of the peaceful transfer of power in a Democracy.

But I'm worried, too. Our vote is still in peril. Let's not get complacent. I think there were a number of reasons why this particular election wasn't stolen. But the power to do so remains, so long as unverifiable, unauditable machines are allowed to be used. I am heartened that Congressman Rush Holt and his staff are readying yet another bill which will do much to protect our vote. We can't rest on our laurels. We need to make sure what happened in 2000, and 2004, can never happen again. Not in this country, and not in any other country, if we do this right. We can set a strong example.

So what does this inauguration mean to me?

It means that Dr. King was right. The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice, and this man was judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

It means that John F. Kennedy's call was heeded, that this year, people asked themselves what they could do for their country, and answered by driving all over the country, calling neighbors and strangers, working to bring in votes for Obama.

It means that Abraham Lincoln was right, and that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, has not perished from this earth. It means we were right to hope, that the "new birth of freedom" Lincoln spoke to us about in his famous Gettysburg address is here at last.

This inauguration also means that we can learn from history. It's significant to me that Obama has chosen as the theme for the inauguration a Lincoln phrase. Lincoln once said, "If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it." In other words, the study of history affords us useful information, not hobbiest entertainment, and no more so than in field of governance. Obama gets this.

I hope those who attend the inauguration, or who watch it on TV, will be so moved by the historicity of the moment that they develop a lifelong interest in the lessons of the past. We have so much to invent. Let's not waste time reinventing the mechanisms of financial recovery when we have so much history to learn from already.

I've been reading up on the Depression, its causes, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's moves to stimulate the economy. I know Obama is reading this information as well. I hope he notices that it wasn't until Roosevelt bit the bullet, so to speak, and significantly raised the highest tax brackets on the wealthy, that the economy really began to recover. Roosevelt nearly single-handedly created the middle class in this country. Prior to that, and more recently, our country really only had the very wealthy and those just getting by. But under Roosevelt, and with the aid of a strong union movement, the middle class grew, and flourished, much to the dismay of the monied class, as Roosevelt essentially had to stimulate inflation to allow housing prices to recover.

Inflation is a scary word. It has caused the downfall of countries, and allowed the rise of Hitler in Germany. But inflation, if carefully controlled, can also be a tool for economic recovery. Inflation is, in a way, a progressive tax, as it takes more from those who have the most wealth, and is gentlest with those who have the most debt, as the value of those debts is ultimately reduced, through inflation.

If Obama tries to follow FDR's path, he'll undoubtedly be called all the same epithets, including "Socialist" and "Communist." And it won't be any more true of Obama than it was of FDR, as both are inveterate capitalists. The monied class will likely try to overthrow him, as they tried to do with Roosevelt in the strangest coup that almost was.

It will be up to all of us to fight back with information, to hold the media's feet to the first, as did I.F. Stone and George Seldes during those times. Those of us who have spent our lives trying to help others know our biggest effort is still ahead of us.

The darkest time in my lifetime was not 9/11. It was June 5, 1968. As Jack Newfield, a reporter and friend of Robert Kennedy once wrote,
Now I realized what makes our generation unique, what defines us apart from those who came before the hopeful winter of 1961, and those who came after the murderous spring of 1968. We are the first generation that learned from experience that things were not getting better, that we shall not overcome. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were alone.
For the first time in my entire life, I feel things will get better, and we are not alone. Obama can't do it by himself, but if we all put our shoulders into it, I'm confident we can roll that stone back up the hill it to its rightful place at the top, pointing the way to a better future.

That's what the inauguration means to me. It means a chance to pick up after 40 years of lost history; to regain our moral standing in the world; to prove once again that government can serve the many, not just the few; and that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is not only still viable but in fact the best possible system on the planet.

There, Michelle. Will you pass that along to your husband, lest I blow it again? Many thanks.


Blogger Real History Lisa said...

P.S. I'll have comments about Leon Panetta soon. He was a good and reliable Congressman when I lived in the Bay Area. Like Obama, his leading characteristic is competence.

Someone once called me "competent," and it sounded like he was damning me with faint praise. But he explained that, in his experience, very few people on the planet were truly competent, and he meant it as a compliment of the highest order. After the last eight years, I'd really like to see some competence in DC, to be sure!

10:39 PM  
Blogger Dawn Meredith said...

This brought me to tears. I know that you have no way to actually get your words to Obama, but I hope when things settle down that
you consider printing this praticular blog off and sending it to him.

You just never know: dreams sometimes do come true.

I was terrified about a stolen election until about 9pm 11/4/08.

I know many who think this election is meaningless that it's "same old same old".
I agree about many things- that there exist powers to whom Obama will bend to or risk his very life- but I also see in him that spark, that very hope that was murdered 6/6/68.

So, for once, for now, our side has won and that is huge.

I will watch the Inaguration on tv with Erick, sip some white wine and think of you telling our new president what it all means to you. And to me. And to the millions of Americans who shed tears of joy on 11/4. The naysayers be damned.

Some people are so jaded that the word "hope" is meaningless. We know better.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Thanks, Dawn. And I know what you mean re terrified re a stolen election. My fear disappeared when I saw the veritable army at the phone bank the weekend before. I knew right then and there we were going to win this. I've never seen so many volunteers in one place in my life. And I knew that scene was replicated across the country! It was tres inspiring!

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are an inspiration and, here-to-fore, the lonely provider of visceral recall of the hopeful times of Camelot. I am 61 going on 15 thanks to the interruption of my joy in all things American on November 22, 1963. I went to Vietnam with JFK's call to service in my ears. I would go again - but only for him! My servive has become A bitter irony at the age of 61, but that distant Kennedian spark gives me some degree of comfort. My 19 year old intentions were good, indeed.

Barrack Obama has a very stacked deck to deal with, but I trust him at a level only a 15 year old could muster. At 61, I am thrilled anew.

You will not be alone in your sense of loss should Obama fail, but I concur that he is our best hope.

As for you, Lisa; you are a constant source of inspiration to me and, as always, you speak to our generations soul.

Best Regards, John Rosina in Jersey

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your writing about Lincoln, and the quotation, reminded me of an excellent book about history I recently finished. For someone who has a website called the Real History blog, I hope you have read it, Lisa, or will at some time in the not too distant future. I am referring to James Loewen's book Lies My Teacher Told Me.

It is ostensibly a review and critique of the history textbooks used in elementary and secondary schools, but it is so much more. It is a profoundly great history lesson in itself in a small 350+ page package.

11:23 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Thanks, John. That's really nice. I appreciate it.

And Ewastud - I browsed that book in a bookstore once, and remember being sorely disappointed in its treatment of the Kennedy assassination. But that doesn't mean it's not a good book on other topics. I just couldn't read it after that, though.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you are speaking of, Lisa. I was a little disappointed, too, that he didn't have more to say about the assassinations in the 1960s and about other specific political intrigues from our recent past. He sort of glosses over those specific events. However, he indicates an awareness in his book that that there is much more than meets the eye in events of the past few decades, such as by referencing the CIA overthrow of foreign regimes, and the excellent investigative journalistic work of the late Jonathan Kwitny.

Loewen looks at the broader scope of history and will probably move and enlighten you more than you expect about the big picture of what has been happening during the past 500 years of history on this continent.

9:53 PM  

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