November 15, 2008

Hope and Resolution

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It’s been over one week now.

One week since Barack Obama became president.

One week since he surmounted all obstacles and shattered many boundaries to reach the highest office in the country.

The euphoria on Tuesday night at his victory, at the collapse of one more racial barrier, and at the imminent expulsion of President Bush was tremendous. That night, Washington D.C. was ablaze. Cars raced down the avenues, horns blaring, radios loudly blasting the voice of Obama as he gave his victory speech. People were heard shouting in their homes, in the bars, even in the local CVS.

At the White House, where I’d run to after discovering the results of the election, a large celebratory crowd had gathered. They were a cacophony of screams, music (a makeshift marching band cross through the crowd, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on their horns) and several chants:

“Yes we can!”
“Yes we DID!”

Two other chants were a bit more obscene…and directed at George Bush, naturally:

“Get the fuck out!”
“Fuck you Bush!”

The night was incredible. And it should have been. The United States had once again shown its tremendous capacity for reinvention and progress. We had a right to be euphoric that night.

But now what?

For some, the euphoria remains. Americans are happy now, for the most part (dour McCain/Palin supporters aside) and the polls suggest a shift in global perceptions of the United States.

For what it’s worth, Iran’s president congratulated Obama’s election, the first time that’s happened since the inception of the Islamic Republic since 1979. Take that as you like, but you cannot deny it’s a change. Hopefully for the better. Remember, the U.S. talked to the Soviets during the most terrifying heights of the Cold War. Iran is a significantly smaller problem, and we’ve got nothing to gain by ignoring them.

Plus, there are other issues to contend with, mainly economic in nature.
The economy is nowhere near improvement. Things continue to look bleaker, in fact. For example, take the auto industry. The three major American auto manufacturers (also known as the Big Three), General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, are in terrible shape. G.M., for example, saw its shares sink to their lowest point in 65 years last Tuesday, when they were valued at $2.92.

To put that in perspective, that means things haven’t been this bad for the auto industry since World War II, when most civilian industries were suspended to respond to military production needs.

G.M is in terrible condition; there are concerns that it will not be able to provide for employee health care, retirement funds and the like, effectively harming all current and former employees. It and the other Detroit-based automakers have asked (read:begged) Congress for a rescue plan to stave off disaster. There are currently moves towards calling a lame-duck session to Congress to contend with the potential death of the American auto industry.

If G.M. or any of the Big Three were to collapse, the effects would be catastrophic. A major pillar of American industry would be gone. Workers would be without jobs and without any benefits.

President-elect Obama, true to form, has been cognizant and wary of the situation. On Monday when the (largely beloved) President-Elect and the (largely despised) President met at the White House for the first time, they had a private talk the Oval Office, during which Obama made it clear that he supported a rescue plan for the Big Three and asked Bush to support such a plan, should a lame-duck Congress push it through.

President Bush, as we might have expected, displayed a dim outlook on the situation. He suggested that he might support such a rescue plan if Congress agreed to support his proposal for free-trade with Columbia.

Sorry, but why the hell would any rational person risk the entire stability of the American economy on a free trade agreement that is strongly opposed by Congress? Forget being for or against free trade–it won’t be an issue if our economy completely collapses. Yet another token of wisdom from the 43rd President.

Thankfully, Obama seems ready and willing to completely revamp Bush’s policies. Obama people have been hinting that Obama would potentially use executive power to reverse much of Bush’s impact in several contentious areas, namely oil and gas drilling in Utah and stem cell research.

These would be momentous changes in American government. They are signs that Obama is going to work as fast as possible to right whatever wrong he sees.

But, that does not mean that people should blindly follow euphoria and hope.

Like I said earlier, we have a right to be happy. In one fell swoop, America largely reinvented itself. But, we cannot let our joy and pride take away attention from pressing matters. Right now, America has a sort of break that will last for a few months. Countries will be more tolerant of our behavior, and may even be kinder to us. After all, Obama’s election shattered the international misconception that America is a land of ignorant racists. They’re still looking to us, however, to see what will happen in the future. We may not be the major industrial power anymore and we may even lose our economic relevance. So, despite some respite, much still weighs upon us. During this grace period, we could just sit back, relax and feel satisfied with what we’ve done. Be happy. But that would be the wrong thing to do. We have to remember that in spite of our social triumph, we’re still in a precarious position, a position that is both a threat to our existence and an opportunity for more reinvention and growth.

Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s caustic new Chief of Staff, said it best when he explained how we should handle our problems. “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” he said, “They are opportunities to do big things.”

You know, throughout the whole election campaign, I believed there was a second message to Obama’s campaign, an undercurrent to hope: resolution. We had to hope that we could change things and we had to hope we could improve America’s internal and global standing. But, we also had to have the resolution, the determination, to transform our hope into reality. For many, this first happened last week. Now, we need to ensure that it happens repeatedly over the next few years. Obama has shown so far that he has both hope and resolution to bring his plans to life. We have to show we do as well.