As I immersed myself in election day coverage last week, I became aware of a strange sensation.
It began shortly after 7 a.m. last Tuesday when I arrived at my local polling place.
Even at that hour, I was the 21st voter in line, and the queue was growing behind me, an unusual situation at this usually quiet location.
I listened to election coverage throughout the day as I went about my business, and then went home to watch the coverage on television.
The strange feeling continued to grow throughout this process, and it occurred to me that this odd sensation must be hope.
This was a new experience for me. One does not get to be a curmudgeon by giving in to flights of reckless optimism, but there it is; I couldn’t help it.
As I listened to people throughout the day, hope seemed to be a thread that ran through their consciousness.
I saw it in the faces of the people in the crowds on television hope in the faces of the elderly people who understood the historic nature of what was taking place, and hope in the faces of young people who had been drawn into the process for the first time.
Electing an African American to the highest office in the land was something of a coming-of-age event for our country, and I am glad we have finally reached this milestone. We still have a long way to go in the fight against prejudice and intolerance, but this was a very visible and positive step in the right direction.
I also found hope in Senator Obama’s victory speech.
He seems to have a clear understanding of the challenges that lie ahead.
People are concerned about the chaos surrounding the housing market, the recession, and the economy in general, and they should be.
We are still mired in the situation in Iraq and faced with other challenges in Afghanistan. Dealing with Iran and Pakistan will also require a deft hand.
It will be difficult for Obama to fund any new projects, since he will inherit a budget deficit that is reaching epic proportions, and a national debt of about $11 trillion.
Energy, jobs, education, and affordable health care are also nagging issues that will need attention from the new president.
Any one of these problems on its own would be a daunting challenge, but together they will require some extraordinary measures.
What Obama has in his favor is an exceptional ability to communicate and a willingness to work with others.
Rather than promising to fix everything, Obama made it clear that government can’t solve all of the problems (no argument there), and said we will all have to work together to make things better.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I am not affiliated with, nor do I support any political party. I despise them all equally.
I am just your average garden-variety anarchist, and as far as I am concerned, the less interference we get from the government, the better off we will be.
In spite of that, I recognize that the challenges facing us will require some extraordinary action.
They are far too big for any one political party to solve, and they won’t be resolved by conflicting political parties sniping at one another. They are also too big for a new president to solve on his own, no matter how enthusiastic he might be.
But, Obama has demonstrated the ability to bring people together, and that is something we need now more than ever.
He also seems to be extraordinarily popular internationally.
For the first time in a long time, other nations have expressed hope that US foreign policy will rely more on diplomacy than on military force, and this could make it much easier for us to work with other countries for our mutual benefit.
This comes at a good time. We can’t keep bullying people around the globe. Our military is stretched too far already.
In exceptional times, we need exceptional leaders, and one characteristic of a great leader is that he has the ability to help those around him reach their full potential.
If by some miracle Obama can pull off the feat of engaging people of all political persuasions and convincing all Americans that they can and must be part of the process of solving our problems and making this the best nation it can be, then perhaps there is reason for us to have hope.
There is no way to know for sure what we can expect in the weeks and months ahead, but it seems clear that the way we approach the challenges and opportunities that arise will be critical to our future.
This hope thing is new to me, and if conditions drift back to politics as usual in Washington and St. Paul, I reserve the right to resume my mantle of cynicism, but for now, I am willing to jump on the bandwagon of hope.
I know where we have been, and that wasn’t any fun, nor was it working, so we might as well try something new.
Dylan said, “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,” and that sounds like good advice. We can’t sit around waiting for a government bailout, we all need to roll up our sleeves and start working toward a better future.
To those who would say that this is all a bunch of hooey, and who would rather cling to the old ways of doing things, I offer one last nugget from northern Minnesota’s favorite son:
“Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand For the times, they are a-changin.’”