26 January 2009

On The Promise of Obama

Like many of you, I watched President Obama's inauguration last week. I had mixed feelings about the whole thing--bittersweet feelings. Many of my liberal friends are surprised to hear that I am, as I describe it, "skeptically optimistic" about Obama.

I'm impressed by his thoughtfulness, intelligence, and speaking ability. I have deep doubts about his politics and preferred policy solutions to many of the problems we face.

But I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Peggy Noonan, who became a bit of a conservative turncoat this election, had a few interesting observations about the inauguration. The following observation, about a new order of inclusiveness, is one I've seen repeated elsewhere.
The whole experience the next few days was marked for me by a new or refreshed knowledge that those who had not felt included or invited in the past were now for the first time truly here, and part of it all, in great numbers.
I appreciate that President Obama, an black president, has made African-Americans feel more included or in some cases, included for the first time. I regret that this is so. I don't think a given group should only feel included when their guy--as identified by race--is in the White House.

Honestly, that's not what this country is about. Unlike many (nay, most) countries in the world, America wasn't and should not be organized along "tribal" lines. We didn't divide based on language or race or whatever but were found based on an idea--an idea that was and remains inclusive enough that anyone and everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, background, ought to be able to feel included and represented regardless of the race of the man or woman occupying the White House or any other office.

This idea that now, for the first time, African Americans can or are included in the political process is, to me, a double-edged sword. I am glad to have them included and feeling patriotic and American, but I am sad that they only feel included when someone who looks like them occupies the White House. Will the same be true of other races or religions? I hope not.

I hope that the breaking of this barrier will help all Americans, regardless of what they think makes them different, realize that what makes them American is a set of shared ideals, a shared vision, a collective memory and history that includes all the good things--what Obama called, "our better history"--and seeks to move past the bad parts.

Maybe that's what this election was about, an opportunity to put the stain of slavery and segregation behind us. If so, as a guy who voted for the other guy, I'd have to agree it is worth it. I just hope the opportunity isn't squandered. If the race-baiters, victim-creators--the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons have their way, a wonderful opportunity will have been lost.

If they have their way, black Americans will only ever feel included when someone who looks like them is in the White House. And that would be a shame.

If Barack Obama does nothing more than bring black Americans into the American body politic, he will have been successful.

Speaking as a conservative, I hope he keeps accomplishes that and keeps his policy prescriptions conservative.

(h/t Scott L.)

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.