George Carlin once said that, “inside every cynical person is a disappointed idealist.” Well, after spending the near entirety of my adult life in The Bush Era, governed by the politics of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, it should come as no surprise that I have viewed government, and our system as a whole, with a cynical pair of LASIK-corrected eyes. But after witnessing what went down in our nation’s capital on Tuesday, it’s hard not to be slightly buzzed on a cocktail of pride and optimism over what took place.
This election was a statement. It was the long-overdue acknowledgment, and rejection, of the hypocrisy in our actions not matching up to the rhetoric this country was founded on (hmm… maybe now the words declared by our forefathers that “all men are created equal” can actually become the Mad Lib they are supposed to be, only this time without the preceding adjective blanks for race, gender, religion and – hopefully much sooner than later – sexual preference already filled in like when they were first put on paper). It also rejuvenates the promise of The American Dream® in the eyes of the world, and serves as a reminder that America isn’t just a series of fast food chains and department stores, plagued by an ethnocentric anti-intellectualism that feeds on gluttonous overconsumption and celebrity obsession. No, within these borders you’ll find that, for those willing to put in the effort, this is the land of unlimited possibilities. And can we please put to rest the absurd notion that the further down the family tree our immigrant ancestors reside, the more American we somehow are? Because, lest we forget, most of us wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for someone X-amount of generations ago buying into the idea that the grass was greenest in the US of A.
And if you just look at a few of the steps the president has taken in his first week alone, you’ll see the potential to do more for our homeland security than anything the last administration put into place. Initiating the shutdown of Gitmo can finally put an end to the do-we-or-don’t-we torture argument for good (because let’s face it, citing a lack of terrorist attacks since 9/11 as justification for the suspension of basic human civil liberties is like saying that, since I haven’t broken any bones in the last five years, my paralysis has been worth it: it hasn’t kept us safe, just further cultivated the hatred of our enemies). And making his first calls as Commander in Chief to the various leaders involved in and around the current conflict in Israel instead of wasting time schmoozing a few allies sends a clear message that our foreign relations will once again be rooted in diplomacy instead of unwavering ultimatums.
And I realize that the man has been lauded by the left (and mocked by the right) as the second coming of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Dr. King, Gandhi, Ted Williams, Walter Payton, sliced bread and Jesus himself all rolled into one, but I’m not quite that naïve nor that arrogant. I’ll tell you what I do see, though; an intelligent, articulate and pragmatic leader with a deep sense of history and a clear picture of the future he wants to mold. He’s humble enough to know that he can’t solve all these problems by himself, wise enough to surround himself with some of the strongest minds available to him and has the backbone to make the right decisions when it comes down to it. Now, I’m not suggesting we’ve entered some sort of post-partisan utopian age, but the ability to be ambitious politically and still remain inclusive of all perspectives is crucial given the challenges we face. 2008 wrapped up in hellish fashion with the loss of 2.6 million jobs, the national debt rocketing past $10 trillion and our military entrenched in two wars with no real consensus on how to end one while simultaneously ramping up the other. All in all, I guess it’s pretty safe to say that collectively we are in some pretty deep shit.
And the last year or so hasn’t exactly been all puppy dogs and pixie dust for me personally either. I’ve spent the majority of the last 10 months relegated to bedrest from a pressure sore I could have easily prevented. So much time in the dungeon hasn’t done much good for the psyche, trust me. Then in a freak accident at a monster truck show a little more than a week ago, a large piece of metal debris shot into the stands, tragically killing a six-year-old boy, and striking a close family friend square in the face, shattering the majority of his jaw. Actually, “close friend” is a severe understatement, since he is the closest thing to a big brother I will ever have. He was one of my first wrestling coaches and the person who fed me my first meal in the ICU after my accident. So seeing one of my heroes brought to his knees like this has been a struggle to say the least. The inability to help is maddening. And though his oxycodone-hazed thumbs up gave me immense hope that he will be okay, I still left the hospital last Monday with a great amount of anger towards the world in general. But as I watched the hundreds of thousands of people converge on the capital the next morning, I could feel my boiling blood slowly begin to cool.
It was strange, because the larger the crowd became, all I kept picturing was that scene from Forrest Gump where Tom Hanks and Robin Wright Penn’s characters reunite in the Reflecting Pool amidst the sea of war protesters. And that led my tangent-prone mind to wander to the 60s in general; an era I’ve always been curious about because of the almost palpable sense of social and political activism that seemed apparent at the time. Or at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten from things I’ve read, seen on the History Channel, etc.. And that simple fact – that the only personal experiences I could relate to the moment have come from the wistful words of dead authors, the grainy images of documentaries and the special effects of blockbuster films – helped to reinforce just how rare and monumental the day actually was. And that really got me thinking.
This could be our moment; that once-in-a-generation opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the course of history. It’s a chance to usher in a new era where we take the power back from the megacorporations that have been distracting us from what is really important with Cialas commercials and iPhone apps or whatever else. It’s going to take our own brand of vigilant activism similar to those of generations past, where we decide that our idealism will not be written off by the cynicism of others as a weakness or a blind faith, but recognized and respected as a measured optimism tempered with the resolve that we can do better; we must do better if we’re going to weather the storms still gathering on the horizon. But in order to do better, we first have to recognize that this change won’t begin on Wall Street or in the halls of our capital buildings. It has to start in our living rooms and backyards and spread from there.
Everyone of us could make a better effort to conserve energy, manage our finances and educate our children as well as ourselves. I mean, how can we rightfully expect our elected officials to be held accountable if we aren’t individually attempting to walk the walk first? That being said, the former just might be a little easier this time around given this president is breaking the stranglehold the last administration had on the Freedom of Information Act. We can no longer avoid the path of the road less traveled for fear of the unknown, paralyzed by threats from the outside world and wallowing in self-pity over our various plights.
Because make no mistake, Barack Obama is not some sort of savior, and he’s not going to pull us out of this ditch with the snap of a finger. But who knows, perhaps with a little help, he could one day be looked back on as the catalyst that helped motivate a generation to reengage in actively shaping the future of those that followed. Or maybe he won’t. Maybe in four years I’ll view this post as my very own Jerry Maguire moment. Either way, I think it is a lot less up to him than it is up to us, so I’m going to try to work a little harder than I did yesterday.
The truth is, my friend’s face will heal. My ass will heal. This country will heal. Will any of it be easy? Hell no, and it will probably get worse before it gets better. But we are a resilient bunch (with my buddy pretty much topping the list) who can overcome this and anything else that gets thrown our way if we can somehow keep a white-knuckled grip on hope. It has been a crazy week, a tough few months and an arduous eight years. But after seeing what a little “community organizing” did to this country last week, I can finally say I have reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, this year will be better than the last.
Now…… who’s coming with me?