Saturday, November 08, 2008

Quoted for Truth

Please excuse the long posts - none of the following is original content, just editorials and commentary on Obama's incredible, amazingly inspiring election victory. Like millions and millions of others, not just in the US, but around the world, I get the strong sense that a new chapter is beginning. A lot of it is wishful thinking, but given Obama's history, his strong campaign, his charismatic cool, and the current state of the world, there is reason to believe that we have turned a corner. What does the future hold for us? No one knows, but I wanted to note here the thoughts of some eminent writers.

The Obama Agenda

Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is a date that will live in fame (the opposite of infamy) forever. If the election of our first African-American president didn’t stir you, if it didn’t leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there’s something wrong with you.

But will the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can.

Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.

About the political argument: Anyone who doubts that we’ve had a major political realignment should look at what’s happened to Congress. After the 2004 election, there were many declarations that we’d entered a long-term, perhaps permanent era of Republican dominance. Since then, Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign.

Bear in mind, also, that this year’s presidential election was a clear referendum on political philosophies — and the progressive philosophy won.

Maybe the best way to highlight the importance of that fact is to contrast this year’s campaign with what happened four years ago. In 2004, President Bush concealed his real agenda. He basically ran as the nation’s defender against gay married terrorists, leaving even his supporters nonplussed when he announced, soon after the election was over, that his first priority was Social Security privatization. That wasn’t what people thought they had been voting for, and the privatization campaign quickly devolved from juggernaut to farce.

This year, however, Mr. Obama ran on a platform of guaranteed health care and tax breaks for the middle class, paid for with higher taxes on the affluent. John McCain denounced his opponent as a socialist and a “redistributor,” but America voted for him anyway. That’s a real mandate.

What about the argument that the economic crisis will make a progressive agenda unaffordable?

Well, there’s no question that fighting the crisis will cost a lot of money. Rescuing the financial system will probably require large outlays beyond the funds already disbursed. And on top of that, we badly need a program of increased government spending to support output and employment. Could next year’s federal budget deficit reach $1 trillion? Yes.

But standard textbook economics says that it’s O.K., in fact appropriate, to run temporary deficits in the face of a depressed economy. Meanwhile, one or two years of red ink, while it would add modestly to future federal interest expenses, shouldn’t stand in the way of a health care plan that, even if quickly enacted into law, probably wouldn’t take effect until 2011.

Beyond that, the response to the economic crisis is, in itself, a chance to advance the progressive agenda.

Now, the Obama administration shouldn’t emulate the Bush administration’s habit of turning anything and everything into an argument for its preferred policies. (Recession? The economy needs help — let’s cut taxes on rich people! Recovery? Tax cuts for rich people work — let’s do some more!)

But it would be fair for the new administration to point out how conservative ideology, the belief that greed is always good, helped create this crisis. What F.D.R. said in his second inaugural address — “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics” — has never rung truer.

And right now happens to be one of those times when the converse is also true, and good morals are good economics. Helping the neediest in a time of crisis, through expanded health and unemployment benefits, is the morally right thing to do; it’s also a far more effective form of economic stimulus than cutting the capital gains tax. Providing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, is important for those who depend on those services; it’s also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy’s slump.

So a serious progressive agenda — call it a new New Deal — isn’t just economically possible, it’s exactly what the economy needs.

The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn’t listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.

November 5, 2008
NYT Editorial
The Next President

This is one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing to reflect on the basic facts:

An American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.

Showing extraordinary focus and quiet certainty, Mr. Obama swept away one political presumption after another to defeat first Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be president so badly that she lost her bearings, and then John McCain, who forsook his principles for a campaign built on anger and fear.

His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.

Mr. Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans’ civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world.

With a message of hope and competence, he drew in legions of voters who had been disengaged and voiceless. The scenes Tuesday night of young men and women, black and white, weeping and cheering in Chicago and New York and in Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church were powerful and deeply moving.

Mr. Obama inherits a terrible legacy. The nation is embroiled in two wars — one of necessity in Afghanistan and one of folly in Iraq. Mr. Obama’s challenge will be to manage an orderly withdrawal from Iraq without igniting new conflicts so the Pentagon can focus its resources on the real front in the war on terror, Afghanistan.

The campaign began with the war as its central focus. By Election Day, Americans were deeply anguished about their futures and the government’s failure to prevent an economic collapse fed by greed and an orgy of deregulation. Mr. Obama will have to move quickly to impose control, coherence, transparency and fairness on the Bush administration’s jumbled bailout plan.

His administration will also have to identify all of the ways that Americans’ basic rights and fundamental values have been violated and rein that dark work back in. Climate change is a global threat, and after years of denial and inaction, this country must take the lead on addressing it. The nation must develop new, cleaner energy technologies, to reduce greenhouse gases and its dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Obama also will have to rally sensible people to come up with immigration reform consistent with the values of a nation built by immigrants and refugees.

There are many other urgent problems that must be addressed. Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance, including some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens — children of the working poor. Other Americans can barely pay for their insurance or are in danger of losing it along with their jobs. They must be protected.

Mr. Obama will now need the support of all Americans. Mr. McCain made an elegant concession speech Tuesday night in which he called on his followers not just to honor the vote, but to stand behind Mr. Obama. After a nasty, dispiriting campaign, he seemed on that stage to be the senator we long respected for his service to this country and his willingness to compromise.

That is a start. The nation’s many challenges are beyond the reach of any one man, or any one political party.

Change I Can Believe In

I have dreams. I may seem like a boring pundit whose most exotic fantasies involve G.A.O. reports, but deep down, I have dreams. And right now I’m dreaming of the successful presidency this country needs. I’m dreaming of an administration led by Barack Obama, but which stretches beyond the normal Democratic base. It makes time for moderate voters, suburban voters, rural voters and even people who voted for the other guy.

The administration of my dreams understands where the country is today. Its members know that, as Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center put it on “The NewsHour,” “This was an election where the middle asserted itself.” There was “no sign” of a “movement to the left.”

Only 17 percent of Americans trust the government to do the right thing most or all of the time, according to an October New York Times/CBS News poll. So the members of my dream Obama administration understand that they cannot impose an ideological program the country does not accept. New presidents in 1932 and 1964 could presuppose a basic level of trust in government. But today, as Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution observes, the new president is going to have to build that trust deliberately and step by step.

Walking into the Obama White House of my dreams will be like walking into the Gates Foundation. The people there will be ostentatiously pragmatic and data-driven. They’ll hunt good ideas like venture capitalists. They’ll have no faith in all-powerful bureaucrats issuing edicts from the center. Instead, they’ll use that language of decentralized networks, bottom-up reform and scalable innovation.

They will actually believe in that stuff Obama says about postpartisan politics. That means there won’t just be a few token liberal Republicans in marginal jobs. There will be people like Robert Gates at Defense and Ray LaHood, Stuart Butler, Diane Ravitch, Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Jim Talent at other important jobs.

The Obama administration of my dreams will insist that Congressional Democrats reinstate bipartisan conference committees. They’ll invite G.O.P. leaders to the White House for real meetings and then re-invite them, even if they give hostile press conferences on the White House driveway.

They’ll do things conservatives disagree with, but they’ll also show that they’re not toadies of the liberal interest groups. They’ll insist on merit pay and preserving No Child Left Behind’s accountability standards, no matter what the teachers’ unions say. They’ll postpone contentious fights on things like card check legislation.

Most of all, they’ll take significant action on the problems facing the country without causing a mass freak-out among voters to the right of Nancy Pelosi.

They’ll do this by explaining to the American people that there are two stages to their domestic policy thinking, the short-term and the long-term.

The short-term strategy will have two goals: to mitigate the pain of the recession and the change the culture of Washington. The first step will be to complete the round of stimulus packages that are sure to come.

Then they’ll take up two ideas that already have bipartisan support: middle-class tax relief and an energy package. The current economic and energy crisis is an opportunity to do what was not done in similar circumstances in 1974 — transform this country’s energy supply. A comprehensive bill — encompassing everything from off-shore drilling to green technologies — would stimulate the economy and nurture new political coalitions.

When the recession shows signs of bottoming out, then my dream administration would begin phase two. The long-term strategy would be about restoring fiscal balances and reforming fundamental institutions.

By this time, the budget deficit could be zooming past $1.5 trillion a year. The U.S. will be borrowing oceans of money from abroad. My dream administration will show that it understands that the remedy for a culture of debt is not more long-term debt. It will side with those who worry that long-term deficits could lead to ruinous interest-rate hikes.

My dream administration will announce a Budget Rebalancing Initiative. Somebody like Representative Jim Cooper would go through the budget and take out the programs and tax expenditures that don’t work. “If we have no spending cuts, then we’re saying government is perfect. Nobody believes that,” Cooper says.

Having built bipartisan relationships, having shown some fiscal toughness, having seen the economy through the tough times, my dream administration will then be in a position to take up health care reform, tax reform, education reform and a long-range infrastructure initiative. These reforms may have to start slow and on the cheap. But real reform would be imaginable since politics as we know it would be transformed.

Is it all just a dream? I hope not. In any case, please be quiet and let me have my moment.

Bring on the Puppy and the Rookie


I walked over to the White House Tuesday night and leaned against the fence. How can such a lovely house make so many of its inhabitants nuts?

There was no U-Haul in the driveway. I don’t know if W. was inside talking to the portraits on the wall. Or if the portraits can vanish from their frames, as at Hogwarts Academy, to escape if W. is pestering them about his legacy.

The Obama girls, with their oodles of charm, will soon be moving in with their goldendoodle or some other fetching puppy, and they seem like the kind of kids who could have fun there, prowling around with their history-loving father.

I had been amazed during the campaign — not by the covert racism about Barack Obama and not by Hillary Clinton’s subtext when she insisted to superdelegates: “He can’t win.”

But I had been astonished by the overt willingness of some people who didn’t mind being quoted by name in The New York Times saying vile stuff, that a President Obama would turn the Rose Garden into a watermelon patch, that he’d have barbeques on the front lawn, that he’d make the White House the Black House.

Actually, the elegant and disciplined Obama, who is not descended from the central African-American experience but who has nonetheless embraced it and been embraced by it, has the chance to make the White House pristine again.

I grew up here, and I love all the monuments filled with the capital’s ghosts. I hate the thought that terrorists might target them again.

But the monuments have lost their luminescence in recent years.

How could the White House be classy when the Clintons were turning it into Motel 1600 for fund-raising, when Bill Clinton was using it for trysts with an intern and when he plunked a seven-seat hot tub with two Moto-Massager jets on the lawn?

How could the White House be inspiring when W. and Cheney were inside making torture and domestic spying legal, fooling Americans by cooking up warped evidence for war and scheming how to further enrich their buddies in the oil and gas industry?

How could the Lincoln Memorial — “With malice toward none; with charity for all” — be as moving if the black neighborhoods of a charming American city were left to drown while the president mountain-biked?

How can the National Archives, home of the Constitution, be as momentous if the president and vice president spend their days redacting the Constitution?

How can the black marble V of the Vietnam Memorial have power when those in power repeat the mistake of Vietnam?

How can the Capitol, where my dad proudly worked for so many years, hold its allure when the occupants have spent their days — and years — bickering and scoring petty political points instead of stopping White House chicanery and taking on risky big issues?

How can the F.D.R. Memorial along the Tidal Basin be an uplifting trip to the past when the bronze statue of five stooped men in a bread line and the words of F.D.R.’s second inaugural — “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished” — evokes the depressing present?

Obama may be in over his head. Or he may be heading for his own monument one day.

His somber speech in the dark Chicago night was stark and simple and showed that he sees what he’s up against. There was a heaviness in his demeanor, as if he already had taken on the isolation and “splendid misery,” as Jefferson called it, of the office he’d won only moments before. Americans all over the place were jumping for joy, including the block I had been on in front of the White House, where they were singing: “Na, na, na, na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye.”

In the midst of such a phenomenal, fizzy victory overcoming so many doubts and crazy attacks and even his own middle name, Obama stood alone.

He rejected the Democratic kumbaya moment of having your broad coalition on stage with you, as he talked about how everyone would have to pull together and “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

He professed “humility,” but we’d heard that before from W., and look what happened there.

Promising to also be president for those who opposed him, Obama quoted Lincoln, his political idol and the man who ended slavery: “We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

There have been many awful mistakes made in this country. But now we have another chance.

As we start fresh with a constitutional law professor and senator from the Land of Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial might be getting its gleam back.

I may have to celebrate by going over there and climbing up into Abe’s lap.

It’s a $50 fine. But it’d be worth it.

Finishing Our Work

And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended, as a black man — Barack Hussein Obama — won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States.

A civil war that, in many ways, began at Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, ended 147 years later via a ballot box in the very same state. For nothing more symbolically illustrated the final chapter of America’s Civil War than the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia — the state that once exalted slavery and whose secession from the Union in 1861 gave the Confederacy both strategic weight and its commanding general — voted Democratic, thus assuring that Barack Obama would become the 44th president of the United States.

This moment was necessary, for despite a century of civil rights legislation, judicial interventions and social activism — despite Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King’s I-have-a-dream crusade and the 1964 Civil Rights Act — the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America’s white majority actually elected an African-American as president.

That is what happened Tuesday night and that is why we awake this morning to a different country. The struggle for equal rights is far from over, but we start afresh now from a whole new baseline. Let every child and every citizen and every new immigrant know that from this day forward everything really is possible in America.

How did Obama pull it off? To be sure, it probably took a once-in-a-century economic crisis to get enough white people to vote for a black man. And to be sure, Obama’s better organization, calm manner, mellifluous speaking style and unthreatening message of “change” all served him well.

But there also may have been something of a “Buffett effect” that countered the supposed “Bradley effect” — white voters telling pollsters they’d vote for Obama but then voting for the white guy. The Buffett effect was just the opposite. It was white conservatives telling the guys in the men’s grill at the country club that they were voting for John McCain, but then quietly going into the booth and voting for Obama, even though they knew it would mean higher taxes.

Why? Some did it because they sensed how inspired and hopeful their kids were about an Obama presidency, and they not only didn’t want to dash those hopes, they secretly wanted to share them. Others intuitively embraced Warren Buffett’s view that if you are rich and successful today, it is first and foremost because you were lucky enough to be born in America at this time — and never forget that. So, we need to get back to fixing our country — we need a president who can unify us for nation-building at home.

And somewhere they also knew that after the abysmal performance of the Bush team, there had to be consequences for the Republican Party. Electing McCain now would have, in some way, meant rewarding incompetence. It would have made a mockery of accountability in government and unleashed a wave of cynicism in America that would have been deeply corrosive.

Obama will always be our first black president. But can he be one of our few great presidents? He is going to have his chance because our greatest presidents are those who assumed the office at some of our darkest hours and at the bottom of some of our deepest holes.

“Taking office at a time of crisis doesn’t guarantee greatness, but it can be an occasion for it,” argued the Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. “That was certainly the case with Lincoln, F.D.R. and Truman.” Part of F.D.R.’s greatness, though, “was that he gradually wove a new governing political philosophy — the New Deal — out of the rubble and political disarray of the economic depression he inherited.” Obama will need to do the same, but these things take time.

“F.D.R. did not run on the New Deal in 1932,” said Sandel. “He ran on balancing the budget. Like Obama, he did not take office with a clearly articulated governing philosophy. He arrived with a confident, activist spirit and experimented. Not until 1936 did we have a presidential campaign about the New Deal. What Obama’s equivalent will be, even he doesn’t know. It will emerge as he grapples with the economy, energy and America’s role in the world. These challenges are so great that he will only succeed if he is able to articulate a new politics of the common good.”

Bush & Co. did not believe that government could be an instrument of the common good. They neutered their cabinet secretaries and appointed hacks to big jobs. For them, pursuit of the common good was all about pursuit of individual self-interest. Voters rebelled against that. But there was also a rebellion against a traditional Democratic version of the common good — that it is simply the sum of all interest groups clamoring for their share.

“In this election, the American public rejected these narrow notions of the common good,” argued Sandel. “Most people now accept that unfettered markets don’t serve the public good. Markets generate abundance, but they can also breed excessive insecurity and risk. Even before the financial meltdown, we’ve seen a massive shift of risk from corporations to the individual. Obama will have to reinvent government as an instrument of the common good — to regulate markets, to protect citizens against the risks of unemployment and ill health, to invest in energy independence.”

But a new politics of the common good can’t be only about government and markets. “It must also be about a new patriotism — about what it means to be a citizen,” said Sandel. “This is the deepest chord Obama’s campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service — in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.”

None of this will be easy. But my gut tells me that of all the changes that will be ushered in by an Obama presidency, breaking with our racial past may turn out to be the least of them. There is just so much work to be done. The Civil War is over. Let reconstruction begin.

Perfecting the Union

Beyond Iraq, beyond the economy, beyond health care, there was something even more fundamental at stake in this U.S. election won by Barack Obama: the self-respect of the American people.

For almost eight years, Americans have seen words stripped of meaning, lives sacrificed to confront nonexistent Iraqi weapons and other existences ravaged by serial incompetence on an epic scale.

Against all this, Obama made a simple bet and stuck to it. If you trusted in the fundamental decency, civility and good sense of the American people, even at the end of a season of fear and loss, you could forge a new politics and win the day.

Four years ago, at the Democratic convention, in the speech that lifted him from obscurity, Obama said: “For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected as one people.”

He never wavered from that theme. “In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people,” he declared Tuesday night in his victory speech to a joyous crowd in Chicago.

In that four-year span, Obama never got angry. Without breaking a sweat, he took down two of the most ruthless political machines on the planet: first the Clintons and then the Republican Party.

An idea has power. John McCain had many things in this campaign, but an idea was not one of them. At a time of economic crisis, he could not order his thoughts about it. Hard-hit Ohio drew its decisive conclusions. It was not alone.

McCain flailed, opting on a whim for a sidekick, Sarah Palin, who personified the very “country-first” intolerance and Bush-like small-mindedness of which many Americans had grown as weary as the world has.

Gracious in defeat, McCain seemed almost relieved, free to return to himself and escape the rabid fringes of Republicanism.

Obama’s idea, put simply, was that America can be better than it has been. It can reach beyond post-9/11 anger and fear to embody once more what the world still craves from the American idea: hope.

America can mean what it says. It can respect its friends and probe its enemies before it tries to shock and awe them. It can listen. It can rediscover the commonwealth beyond the frenzied individualism that took down Wall Street.

I know, these are mere words. They will not right the deficit or disarm an enemy. But words count. That has been a lesson of the Bush years.

You can’t proclaim freedom as you torture. You can’t promote democracy as you disappear people. You can’t stand for the rule of law and strip prisoners of basic rights. You can’t dispense with the transparency and regulation essential to modern capital markets and hope still to be the beacon of free enterprise.

Or rather, you can do all these things, but then you find yourself alone.

Obama will reinvest words with meaning. That is the basis of everything. And an American leader able to improvise a grammatical, even a moving, English sentence is no bad thing. Americans, in the inevitable recession ahead, will have a leader who can summon their better natures rather than speak, as Bush has, to their spite.

I voted in Brooklyn. There was a two-hour line. I got to talking to the woman behind me. I told her that as a naturalized American I was voting for the first time. When I emerged from the voting booth the woman said: “Congratulations.:

That single word said a lot about citizenship as an idea and a responsibility, rather than a thing of blood or ethnicity or race.

And it occurred to me that Obama’s core conviction about the American saga — his belief in the connectedness of all Americans — stemmed from his own unlikely experience of American transformation.

A Kenyan father passing briefly through these shores; a chance encounter with a young Kansan woman; a biracial boy handed off here and there but fortunate at least in the accident of Hawaiian birth.

Obama has spoken without cease about his conviction of American possibility born from this experience. He intuited that, after years of the debasement of so many core American ideas, a case for what the preamble to the U.S. Constitution calls “a more perfect union” would resonate.

He was rarely explicit about race, although he spoke of slavery as America’s “original sin.” He did not need to be. At a time of national soul-searching, what could better symbolize a “more perfect union” and the overcoming of the wounds of that original sin than the election to the White House of an African-American?

And what stronger emblem could be offered to the world of an American renewal startling enough to challenge the assumptions of every state on earth?

The other day I got an e-mail message saying simply this: Rosa Parks sat in 1955. Martin Luther King walked in 1963. Barack Obama ran in 2008. That our children might fly.

Tough days lie ahead. But it’s a moment to dream. Americans have earned that right, along with the renewed respect of the world.

November 4, 2008

I don't know what kind of president Barack Obama will be, but I know this: He has made me proud of America again. And also of Americans.

Today, they are turning out in record numbers to repudiate the leaders who disgraced and failed them. Today, they're doing what no one would have dared imagine a few years ago: electing a biracial president with a foreign-sounding name who self-identifies as black. They are taking a courageous leap of faith, because they're disgusted with what's happened to their country.

I am a Canadian who was born and grew up in the United States. For most people like me, the past few years have been dreadful. We lost our native country to men without honour. We lost it to people who authorized torture, secret prisons and indefinite detention. We lost it to people who made America hated and feared around the world and then, for good measure, presided over a global financial collapse. We gave up trying to defend America to all those critics who love to wallow in its wickedness - because, for once, they were right, and we were ashamed.

I don't know how Mr. Obama will do as president, but I know this: He will give Americans their country back. He will work to make it the kind of country that people can respect again.

I come from a long line of corn-fed Midwesterners, Republicans, mostly. They were an optimistic lot, and they were immensely proud of their country. From the time I was little, I, too, knew that my country stood for freedom, justice and doing the right thing.

That idealized nation never did exist, of course. When Mr. Obama's parents got married in Hawaii, it was still illegal for them to do so in Virginia. Eventually, I learned that America wasn't always just, and that quite a few Americans lived in a country quite different from the one I knew. By the time I settled in Canada, I was relieved to leave behind the race wars, the wounds of Vietnam and the operatic hysteria of Watergate.

I've been a citizen of Canada for 30 years, and I never think of going back. But it's been painful to see my native land turn into a place that would dismay my grandparents. The moderate Rockefeller Republicans of my youth were banished long ago, replaced by a gang of moral absolutists who derive their certainty on both abortion and foreign wars from divine revelation. They weren't conservatives at all. They were radicals, who practised a sort of ideological slash and burn. They created tribal divisions so bitter that, today, Republicans and Democrats can scarcely talk to one another.

The optimism of my grandparents disappeared, too. Seven years after 9/11, America is still behaving like a nation under imminent threat - defensive, inward-looking and overly afraid. There are smarter ways to fight the terror wars, with less apocalyptic rhetoric, more confidence and less pointless harassment of the public in airports. Maybe Mr. Obama will find them.

I'm proud, too, proud and profoundly moved, that black Americans who haven't bothered to vote in years are voting today. I see them and I cry. The racial conversation will never end, but it will be different. The bitter narrative of oppression and grievance is over. The narrative of possibility - of Martin Luther King - can begin again.

I'm under no illusion that Americans will start holding hands tomorrow and sing Kumbaya. I have no idea whether Barack Obama will be able to succeed, or even muddle through, with the nasty hand he's been dealt. But I do know that what's happening today is a fresh start, and a relief, and even redemptive.

"The cradle of the best and the worst." That's what Leonard Cohen sings about America and, as usual, he's absolutely right. So, tonight, please join me in raising a glass to democracy in the United States. Americans are about to get their country back, and so am I.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Momentous Day

Today I watched the election results come in - a stunning victory for Barack Obama! I had been teaching the novel Pride & Prejudice at the high school where I work in the mornings, and I had the computer set up in a corner. I had prepped the students, so they knew the background of the candidates, the issues, and what was at stake. They also knew that the magic number of electoral votes was 270. During class, the results were coming in, and I updated the stats in a corner of the blackboard every couple of minutes as soon as I saw them posted on CNN. When California kicked in with its magic 55, the class cheered. At 12:15, I was finished, dashed out of the school and made my way to the Brass Monkey, where Democrats Abroad (Taiwan Chapter) were celebrating. I saw a lot of friends there, and was caught up in the excitement with everyone else. After about half an hour, Obama spoke to the crowds in Chicago - his hometown.

I have to say, I was profoundly moved by what he said, and by the intense emotion of the crowd there.
This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

To have a young president-elect of mixed-race, with a multi-cultural, international upbringing speak with such eloquence gives me a lot of hope. Obama's election doesn't reflect the past, it portends the future, a future of possibility, a future that my own mixed-race, multi-cultural, international daughter can thrive and be happy in. That's a future I can look forward to!