Hope For America's "Everyday Man"?

The Inauguration

Many wept. Some for Obama, some for a lifetime of waiting; some because they'd miss Bush, still others because they'd thought Bush would never leave. Even Bush himself brushed tears from his face as he hopped up the helicopter steps. (The loss of power must be a blow.)

Who wasn't somehow moved by the reality of new presidential leadership? Less often now, my stomach churns before I check the news. I'm slowly deprogramming my habit of bracing for the next stunner, the next mendacious policy announcement, the next hair-raising revelation from the White House. I'll admit, in the past couple of weeks I've even lapsed into moments of (naive) hope.

  • Hope for inclusiveness, triggered by small, many would think irrelevant episodes. Like when Pete Seeger showed up at the preinaugural concert to sing an Arlo Guthrie song with his grandson and Bruce Springsteen. Seeger may be an ever popular folk hero now as he approaches 90 years, with a new album and glowing biographical movie. But it wasn't always like this. He was blacklisted and banned from radio in the 1950's and 1960's on account of his "subversiveness".

    In the early 1960's Seeger refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on First Amendment grounds, a decision which through him into economic hard times and patriotic hot water. But before that he had performed for US military chiefs in Theodore Roosevelt's White House. His father administered music programs as part of FDR's New Deal.

    Patriotism is so subjective isn't it?

  • Hope derived from the crowds at the inauguration, good-natured people of cultural, racial and political diversity. Hope for religious tolerance. In his inaugural address Obama described a "nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers". How observant. According to a Pew Center report, about 16% of Americans identify as non-believers, but not one member of Congress does. It was surprising recognition for what a Beliefnet writer calls the "untouchables".

  • Words that warmed my heart on a chilly day, Obama promising in his speech to "restore science to its rightful place". Indeed, on the first couple of days of his administration Obama overruled the ban on international funding for organizations that provided contraceptives, overturning Bush's ruling which overturned Clinton's policy. Obama also promised to revive stem cell funding.

    Bravo for science awareness!

Dashing Hope

Obama's first moves gave us plenty to be optimistic about. But as Mark Slouka wrote in this month's Harper's:

"It would be churlish to quibble.

Still, let's."

Slouka points out that Obama won in a perfect storm of economic disaster and Republican failure, that Obama was an exceptionally talented and articulate candidate. Given all this he still only got 53% of the vote. What about the others Slouka asks, those who thought Palin would be a fine Vice President, or who couldn't discern any difference between the candidates therefore didn't vote? Slouka worries about American citizens' choices and what he sees as an overwhelming contentment with ignorance.

"When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo "vibrational aura" that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down."

We're doomed, he concludes.

I'm not quite so cynical. But the barriers to "change" look high. Not to be a wet sock, but should stem cell policy changes and international funding for organizations that inform people about birth control options assure us that science is in its "rightful place"? Of course not. From these quick executive changes, we're convinced only that politics determines the place of these science policies.

True, nothing can happen overnight. More policy changes are in the works. Obama is set to increase NIH biomedical funding. He ordered the Department of Transportation to get to work completing emissions standards. He's told the EPA to review California's request for a waiver. But we have a long way to go to meet the President's promises on the environm ent and science.

Tunnel Vision

Will it happen in time? If the citizens cannot to be trusted, than we should look to their leaders. While the Republicans argue about every aspect of the stimulus bill, the economy sinks further. And if politicians seem unbearable, what about the corporations groveling about, looking for their next hand-out, planning their next party, all the while complaining how they can't possibly improve their product, honor a warranty, concede a dollar, accept a regulation.

Will we emerge from this tunnel in time? Or are Americans indeed doomed? While carmakers argue that technology doesn't allow them to raise emissions standards, a Chinese engineer, one year out of college, cooly introduced a new electric car from Chinese automaker BYD (Build Your Dreams) at a recent autoshow. The car? "A $20,000 plug-in hybrid that can go 60 miles before the gas engine kicks in, or the e6, an all-electric crossover that cruises 250 miles on a single charge."

According to The Atlantic the BYD car was parked next to the $500,000 Maybachs, the Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and Bentleys. Taking in the expensive American cars draped with bejeweled women, the Chinese engineer noted: "Those beautiful vehicles are for the very handsome men, those high in society. They're not for the everyday man."

Will Congress please slap its cheeks to alert itself to the dire straits of the situation and start working for us, the everyday man?

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