Yes We Can Dare to Hope ... But We'll Need to Work Hard to Bring Real Change
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A New Patriotism
His election was not a result of, as one African American comedian put it, people being "so worried about whether he was a Muslim or a socialist, they forgot he was black!" People knew. Obama's race presumably cost him far more votes than it gained. Yet he won decisively and is entering office with a 78 percent approval rating, the highest ever recorded for an incoming president.
Who would have imagined as little as five years ago, with the jingoistic militarism that so dominated American political discourse, that the next president of the United States would be an African American man with a Muslim father, with the middle name of Hussein, who had for years served as a community organizer with progressive grassroots organizations, and at that time had held no elected office higher than representing a predominantly black district in a state senate?
The personal significance of the day hit me when someone came through the crowd handing out American flags, and I found myself eagerly reaching for one.
I have held flags when I thought it was appropriate for certain ceremonial occasions, but I don't recall, since I was very young, actually being eager to do so. This past reluctance came not out of any innate lack of patriotism, but from the fact that the flag has too often represented national chauvinism or support for U.S. militarism and imperialism, not from a genuine love of country. Yet on that day, I could actually feel a deep pride for being an American and being seen waving a flag.
I also knew that there were millions of people around the world excitedly watching the inauguration ceremony on television, from modern apartments in the Netherlands to remote villages in Kenya to the urban slums of Indonesia to the rubble of Gaza, who were thinking that maybe they could actually feel good about the United States again. I thought about how different it would now feel for me to show my U.S. passport going through customs in a foreign country and not feel embarrassed because of my president.
Minutes after the end of the ceremony, with viewing areas for the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue already full, I asked a Secret Service agent about the possibility of hanging out at the corner of the mall by the National Gallery where the parade commenced. He said that it would be a great place to view where the floats and marching bands converged to start the parade, but that President Obama would be joining the procession a block north from that point at Pennsylvania Avenue.
I paused. "President Obama." Only minutes old, the combination of that title and that name were the most beautiful words I could possibly hear, particularly after hearing so constantly for the past eight years the words "President Bush." I held onto my daughter and burst into tears.
Obama has become president of the United States because rather than appealing to the worst instincts of American voters -- which had made possible the disastrous eight years of the Bush administration -- he appealed to our best instincts.
Instead of divisiveness, he offered unity. Instead of manipulating people's fear and prejudices, he offered a sense of hope and faith stemming from the most progressive and visionary aspects of our country's heritage. It was a message that inspired Kalila and so many other young people to help elect him president. It was a message that made it possible for a sometimes-cynical leftist like me to stand for hours in the cold on the Washington Mall and wave an American flag.