(Note: Consider this the make-up post for the three election posts that I didn’t make in November. This will not be the most interesting or the most insightful thing you read about the inauguration of Barack Obama, but I can’t let the day pass without writing something.)
I was at Amrhein’s with a bunch of co-workers. Like most people, I had to work today, and I was a little nervous, since I didn’t want to have to tell my grandchildren, “Uh, when Obama was sworn into office, I was importing a test bank into ExamView.” (If you don’t work with me, you probably have no idea what that means, and neither will my grandchildren. Trust me, the inauguration was more interesting.) Then an email went around about all of us watching it in a conference room with a computer hooked up to a projector, but when that wasn’t working, and we confirmed that we didn’t have cable in the building, there was instead a mass exodus to Amrhein’s, a restaurant near our office, where the inauguration was playing on several screens. (Unfortunately, I ran out so fast that I forgot to grab my purse so that I could buy lunch.) And together we all cheered, burst into applause, and maybe got a little teary-eyed as we watched Barack Obama become President of the United States. (Side note: neither Barack nor Obama is recognized by spell check? Seriously?)
I voted for Obama. I think he’s smart, has a lot of good ideas, and understands where the American people are at. It’s not a coincidence that people in my age bracket were a big force in helping to elect him. On election night back in November, I remember hearing someone on CNN say that he thought one reason that young people are so supportive of Obama was that they see him as kind of a cool guy who “gets them.” It was a very condescending way of phrasing it, but I think he kind of had a point. I do think Obama “gets us.” The McCain campaign trashed him for being “the biggest celebrity in the world,” but why was that supposed to be a bad thing? He attracts crowds because he gets people excited. Because he gives people hope. Because people feel like he “gets them.”
The country has changed a lot in four years, and there’s a lot we can learn from this campaign and election. For one thing, I’m encouraged by the backlash against Sarah Palin. Maybe enduring the Bush presidency has taught Americans to recognize, and not vote for, politicians lacking in intelligence. And now that we’ve rejected Palin and Hillary Clinton is going to be Secretary of State, maybe young girls will see that it’s possible for women to succeed using their brains, and that trying to charm your way through serious questions to make up for your lack of experience won’t get you anywhere.
Seeing as I’m white and was born in 1984, I don’t feel qualified to write about the racial implications of this election. But it is pretty incredible that segregation was outlawed three years after Obama was born—and now, at age 47, he’s leading a country that would have sent him to the back of the bus less than half a century ago.
But of course, there was one truly ugly thing that came out of this election season—Proposition 8. I am glad to hear that if no one over 65 voted, Proposition 8 would have failed—people over 65 have fewer elections left. And while I can kind of excuse older adults for their votes for Prop 8, I think that for someone of my generation, being for Proposition 8 and being a good person are mutually exclusive. I don’t care whom I just offended by writing that. Do you think someone who goes up to a person who’s never done him any harm and says, “I don’t want you to be happy,” is a good person? Because that’s what the people who voted yes on 8 did to gay couples all over California.
But today makes me wonder—if our outlook and priorities can change so drastically in the four years since the last election, and if we can go from a segregated nation to one with an African-American president in less than five decades, in 50 years, will we be electing a married, openly gay president? Will we be standing here in eight years, no longer ruefully starting sentences with, “Well, in this economy…”? Will we be able to open the paper without reading about another soldier killed in Iraq? Will we be able to seek medical treatment without a single thought about what our insurance will charge us?
Maybe we won’t. Obama’s not a miracle worker, after all, and he made one mistake before he was even done with the oath of office.
But maybe we will. At the very least, we hope so, and it doesn’t seem silly to hope so. And that’s why we elected Obama. Because in a way unlike any other politician I can remember, he gives us hope.