Sunday, January 18, 2009

Goodbye, Tara

We're two days away from the big day—the finest transfer of power in our lifetimes. In all likelihood, it's an event on the magnitude of Buchanan-to-Lincoln or Hoover-to-FDR. (Even as I read that last sentence I find myself torn between my sense of excitement and possibility and my wariness of grandiose pronouncements. And yet I leave it there because this is, by any objective measure, a big historical moment.) But before the celebrations end and the heavy lifting begins I thought I'd take some time to share a few thoughts about what's happening from my narrow historical perspective. 

We're about to be led as a nation by a man who is, among other things:
• African American (yes, we can stop right here, but I'll go on)
• an intellectual / constitutional scholar
• rooted in the liberal political tradition (albeit with a moderate/conservative temperament)
• a writer
• an urban dweller (the first non-"rural" president in nearly a century)
• isn't not afraid to speak extemporaneously and in complete sentences
• is politically shrewd 
• is emotionally intelligent
• is from the midwest / is not from the South/West
Think about that for a second. Just let it sink in. 

Now, all of that is great enough. And I don't want to take anything away from Obama and his/our victory. But we've had a smart, kinda liberal guy in the White House before. And we remember how that went. (In fairness, Clinton probably did the best he could given we were still in the thick of a conservative political era—not to mention his lack of discipline and sabotage-inducing appetites.)

What makes this moment doubly exciting is what else has gone on. This most recent conservative era that we've lived through—suffered under—has clearly come to an end and we're on the cusp of a new era in American politics (a period Michael Lind posits will be a Fourth Republic). 

In addition to being exciting for its own sake as a large historical event, it's amazing to me as a) a liberal, b) a coastal dweller from the midwest, c) a sane person. For the first time since I was a zygote, this country will not be dominated by Jacksonian, Southern culture and its retrograde mores. For the past 40 years or so Jacksonian politicians have controlled the levers of federal power and dominated the political playing field (even as they lost ground in popular culture, thank you, Hollywood*). Delay, Gingrich, Bush, Cheney, et al were merely the apotheosis (nadir?) of this virulent political strain. It's as if they took the old confederate mantra "the South will rise again" as a prime directive. 

And rise it did. But instead of a civil war they got elected (or not) and waged a culture war. We've lived with the repercussions since. 

And it has finally, finally played out. Ding, dong. The goddamn witch is dead.


All of which isn't to say we're entering a golden era of butterflies and rainbows and kumbaya. It's merely an opportunity. An opportunity to remake the country according to our highest visions, instead of complaining about the injustices caused by the other guys. Whether the opportunity is squandered or utilized remains to be seen.

Because power will be fought over as it always is. Nasty, evil shit will still happen in the country and the world. New factions and new divisions will form. Liberals will have to hold Obama's feet to the fire, lest countervailing pressures push him backwards. There will be failures alongside the wins.

We don't know what this new era will be called or what it will bring. But the emphasis and overall direction is shifting—has already shifted. And all of the energy and momentum right now is with progressive ideas and proposals. This is our moment. Let's enjoy it.

* Never thought I'd write those words.

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