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Selah

In some of the Psalms that we recite in synagogue, there is a Hebrew word whose exact meaning is unknown: selah. The word "selah" usually shows up when there is a break between two phrases, so some scholars tend to think that it was a note to people singing the psalms to pause for a moment before moving on.

Today is a day for selah. Today is a day to pause and reflect.

I often find myself consciously not blogging about major (or even minor) events that happen in the course of the week, because I feel that I have little to add to the general discourse. For example, last week we saw the deaths of two actors whose performances I enjoyed, as well as an emergency landing of a plane in the Hudson River that many called miraculous. I pondered adding my voice to the cacophony of discussion about these events, but realized I had little to say other than to note that they happened. So I remained silent.

But today's major historic event compels me to take note, even if I feel that anything I can add would be obvious at the best and banal at the worst. Still, here are my thoughts, for what they're worth.

Barack Obama was not my first choice for president among the crowded field of candidates we had running. Yes, it was rather evident that I'd end up voting for the Democrat in the general election, no matter who it would turn out to be, but early on in the process Obama struck me as someone who could use more experience before running for president.

However, the closer he came to the presidency, the more I learned about him, and the more I found I liked him.

I think what first turned me around was listening to his speech on race. Obama was articulate and intelligent, and more than that, he talked to the American people as if we were adults. He didn't shy away from the controversies inherent in some of his statements, and neither did he ignore the pain that racism and reverse racism causes in all Americans.

I started to read his books, and I found that Obama was a writer, someone who had a delightful facility of expression and an ear for the rhythms of language. Furthermore, Obama was clearly someone who had thought long and hard about who he was, and how others would see him. And, as a science-fiction writer and a comic book reader, I couldn't help but be pleased when Obama made jokes about being sent to Earth from Krypton, or when the press reported that Obama liked to read Spider-Man comics.

I still felt concerned about Obama's lack of experience, but as he started to put together his cabinet, those concerns melted away. He's surrounding himself with the best possible people for their jobs, and making it clear that he intends to listen to all opinions, no matter how controversial, before making decisions.

And, last but not least, there is the fact that Obama is "a black man of mixed heritage," as he describes himself. I know that I can't possibly put myself in the shoes of the many African-Americans who are standing prouder and taller today, but I too am feeling a sense of pride in being an American, a feeling that I haven't enjoyed in far too long.

Look what we've done. Look at what this country is about to do.

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office later today, I'll be watching. And I suspect I'll have difficulty fighting back the tears in my eyes.

Comments

Obama's cabinet selections actually pushed me back a bit from him. These are all generally capable people, but with the exception of the Nobel prize winning physicist, they were not particularly groundbreaking. I was expecting a bit more out of the box thinking. The bulk of his choices for economic advisers, meanwhile, seem to be from same mindset of those who got us in the current economic mess in the first place. And I think that Hillary is a bad choice, especially since I cannot really see either her and Obama working together for long.

I want to like him. I really do. He's intelligent and seems capable and I'm glad he is going to change things after eight terrible years of Bush and Cheney and friends. But I can't shake my doubts. I still don't feel like he's quite ready (though I admit that there is no way to learn to be president other than to be president). I feel like he's trying to hard to be bipartisan when the Democrats have solid majorities in both Houses and can afford to take a few risks. There is something still missing.

Yes, today is important and historic and groundbreaking and generally a Good Thing. But I am far more interested in tomorrow, when the time for celebration is over and the time to fix things starts. Maybe in six months, I will feel better about him. But not yet.

And with that said, I will be quiet and not ruin this day for you or everyone else.
I have to acknowledge that there are many Americans out there for whom Obama was not their choice, and continues to not be their choice.

But no matter what one's politics, I hope that all Americans are able to enjoy the historic nature of this event, and the accomplishment this country has made in transcending, on one level, the prejudices of the past.
For what it's worth on the cabinet posts, I also am a bit disappointed in some of the picks. Probably not the ones others would be disappointed in but disappointed none the less.

That being said, I think Obama's picks are directly responding to the failures of the last two Democratic cabinets. He wanted people who know how the levers work in Washington. The folks that Carter brought from Georgia and Clinton brought from Arkansas, no matter how competent or loyal, often failed on that fundamental level.

So here's what I'm anticipating. Obama calling the shots and these folks figuring out how to get those things done. On that basis, I'm a lot more comfortable with the picks. We'll now see just how much of an alpha dog he'll be for this crew or if the tails start wagging the dog.
One other thought. Some of this wooing of the right might be looked at, like the pick of Rev. Rick Warren, as a divide and conquer strategy. As comparative moderates have their profiles raised, the stock of the more hardcore James Dobsons and Phyllis Schlaflys go down. Also the amount of support from evangelicals on the edge goes up proportionately.

I think Democrats take for granted what a perfect political and economic storm it took for Obama to get elected. In many ways, they won because the other side sucked more. That's a pretty fragile base and I think Obama is attempting to firm that up as best he can.

That may be challenged when he starts implementing policy but for now it's not too bad of a strategy. It might get him the benefit of the doubt in cases where he might not get any if he followed a more partisan approach.
In many ways, they won because the other side sucked more.

funny, i thought that's how every election gets won around here...
You and I followed the same path in regards to how we both came to support Obama, Michael. I too considered him inexperienced, and to be honest I still feel that way to a very slight degree.

What allows me to look past that perception is his genuine nature and his obvious intellect and good sense. There's an honesty to his speech and his literature, and I get the impression when I listen to him orate that every word he utters has been carefully chosen, and each sentence has been meticulously crafted to best convey his meaning and sentiment. This attests to an obvious passion for his profession, and a sense of duty on his part towards the people and country he has been chosen to serve. Apart from that, his cabinet selections (even the ones I don't necessarily agree with) demonstrate a certain shrewdness on Obama's behalf. He's not just selecting the best people for the jobs, he's making sure he surrounds himself with people he knows will not agree with him (nor he they) on every issue. In essence, he is creating a political atmosphere that is about discourse and debate, which I think is important in a country where discussion has almost become a lost art.

It's interesting. I actually just got back Sunday evening from a week in England, plus a two-day detour to Holland, where I had an opportunity to observe how perception of America is beginning to change across the pond. I will weave no illusions to suggest that Americans are now beloved by all in either country (though I am not nor have I been one to suggest that the rest of the world hates America), but there is a sense of excitement at Obama's inauguration that rivals (and probably tops) the excitement felt over here. Most of all in England, Obama is [i]everywhere[/i], from newspapers to magazines to grand advertisements stretched across the broad walls of the Underground. It was easily enough to make me feel a sense of pride for my country again.

I don't know how long it will take, but the world's perception of America is going to change, and we start on that road today.
I haven't followed carefully whom Obama has chosen for his cabinet, but from a great distance, it was astounding to see that the two main options presented to the public for Democratic candidates were a woman and a man of color. Remembering what a circus Geraldine Ferraro's nomination for vice-president was, and how clearly unprepared Americans were for anything other than the usual middle-aged white male, it has amazed and impressed me to see that in the past 25 years, Americans have overcome enough of their racism and sexism to take seriously both a Black and a woman as presidential candidates. I share your awe.
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