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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Joy, tempered with shame

I felt great joy when I saw that President Obama has formally denounced torture and announced the closing of secret prisons and the detainee center at Guantanimo Bay. I also felt great joy when he announced an immediate halt to the military tribunals at the same. These are long-overdue changes to policies by the previous administration that critically damaged our standing domestically and abroad.

Still, that joy, that elation, was overshadowed by the very fact such Executive Orders were necessary in the first place. Earl Warren once said, "It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of those liberties which make the defense of the nation worthwhile." President Obama's recent Executive Orders was merely an official correction of the sad realization of Justice Warren's nightmare, expressed above. It is that collective shame some of President Obama's first acts have striven to expiate.

In closing, I would like to share a quote by President Herbert Hoover: "Thus the scene of the tragedy of Liberty world over must be suffering and discontent among the people. The drama moves swiftly in a torrent of words in which real purposes are disguised in portrayals of Utopia; idealism without realism; slogans, phrases and statements destructive to confidence in existing institutions; demands for violent action against slowly curable ills; unfair representation that sporadic wickedness is the system itself; searing prejudice against the former order; dismay and panic in the economic organization which feeds on its own despair. Emotions rise above reason. The man on horseback, ascending triumphantly to office on the steps of constitutional process, demands and threatens the parliament into the delegation of its sacred power. Then follows consolidation of authority through powerful propaganda in the pay of the state to transform the mentality of the people. Resentment of criticism, denunciation of all opposition, moral terrorization, all follow in sequence. The last scene is the suppression of freedom. Liberty dies of the water from her own well- free speech- poisoned by untruth. "In the Epilogue the dreams of those who saw Utopia are shattered and the people find they are marching backward toward the Middle Ages- as regimented men." It is this warning that our nation heard when we elected President Barack Obama, and it is this warning to which we have finally taken heed and awakened from our national insanity. May we never forget these sage words from our 31st President.

Enjoy this music. The title is, fittingly, "Duality" by Slipknot.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reflections and hope:

Looking on the last eight years, I cannot help feeling that former President George W. Bush was a fundamentally nice guy who, nevertheless, was completely out of his depth. I do not say this to excuse his behavior or his awful, sometimes even criminally bad, choices while in office. We have had presidents who were good men but awful presidents, such as Carter, while we have had presidents who were utter bastards but excellent presidents, such as Eisenhower and FDR. As I watched Bush's face, it seems that he would echo the parting words of yet another of the three worst presidents in U.S. history, James Buchanan, when speaking to Abraham Lincoln at the end of his term: “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.”

Perhaps it is easier to feel a bit magnanimous once a person who is so detested is no longer in a position to do harm. Or, perhaps, I feel in my soul these words from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address: "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." The political wars of the last twelve years are over, and good riddance. President Obama's inauguration yesterday should signal a new day, and a new dawn for this country. This is a nation that is forever young, and at no time in my life has this felt more true than it did at 11:00 CST yesterday.

I was watching the Today Show, I believe it was, and they were discussing the Class of 2020, a project where they will keep track of a class of students for thirteen years, culminating in their graduation from high school. One of the reporters remarked that this generation, this high school graduating Class of 2020, will not think it remarkable that a man such as President Barack Hussein Obama had the opportunity to take that most solemn oath to become President of the United States of America. They will see it as normal, as nothing worthy of note, and though I hid it well, I could not help getting a bit misty-eyed as I heard those words.

I was raised by my parents to believe that all were created equal, that the major determinants of one's fate were one's intelligence, character, and drive. I was raised to look at people as people, and judge them by their actions and words, and not their physical appearance. Negative stereotypes of the South notwithstanding, I learned this at the feet of my politically conservative Southern parents back in the late 1970s and 1980s when I was a child, as my parents learned at the feet of their politically conservative parents a generation before. As I awoke this morning, I did so with this affirmation of everything I was taught to believe in, everything generations of my family have believed in, everything my later experiences further reinforced. I did so with a renewed sense of hope and optimism for our future, though that hope is tempered with the knowledge that much work remains to be done.

I hope future generations study President Obama's first inaugural speech, as it was a perfect crystallization of the challenges that face us and a brief outline of the steps needed to resolve those issues. I must admit that having a man such as he as the President of this great land feels even better than I thought it would. I am truly humbled to live in this time.

I don't know if I've posted this video before, but I thought it was fitting.