Thursday, November 6, 2008

State of the Union

I suppose I'll be the first to put up my thoughts about Obama's election for this blog. I apologize for the delay, but I think we've all been busy, and...well, celebrating with the rest of Chicago.

We have reached a historic moment in our country. 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. laid out his vision, we have elected an African-American president. That it finally happened is something to celebrate enthusiastically. That it took so long is a tragedy. From this day on, for children growing up, it will no longer be an impossibility for a non-white to gain our country's highest office. Likewise, I have to hand it to Senator Clinton, and yes, even the cynical and insipid choice of Sarah Palin, to showing that women are not far behind in this.

This is a moment which we should all celebrate, it's a moment in which I have allowed myself to have some slight hope for American politics. It's evidence that we can, grudgingly and sometimes belligerently, overcome ourselves. We can make a more perfect Union, slowly, painfully, and with back-breaking labor. That, to me, has always been the dream of America, something that we have not, and perhaps never can achieve, but we can always work towards it.

However, I am not overflowing with effervesence and joy at the moment. There are many things that are still troubling.

For one, Proposition 8 passed in California. Similar bans on gay marriage passed in Alabama and Florida. Arkansas passed a proposal to ban unwed couples from adopting (basically, to prevent gays and lesbians from adopting children). All of these propositions were motivated by and funded by religious organizations, and they have succeeded in continuing a policy of discrimination in our country. And that's the thing - it's not simply privileging a religious group's interpretation of marriage, or even the majority's opinion on marriage (because, yes, indeed, it did pass with a majority of the vote), but it is simple and outright discrimination against a minority. That is exactly the sort of thing that our Constitution is meant to protect against - the voice of the majority does not have the power to take away the voice of a minority. So, there's one reason to be upset.

We have elected a black president. But what if he were non-Christian? What if he were gay? Or Latino? There are still huge issues of discrimination in America that need to be addressed. Our work is nowhere near done.

The media's over-jubilant proclamations of "post-racial" America are absolutely ridiculous. Of course there are still racists, and there are still those out there who even now are shining their guns and saying they will never follow a black president. Our country remains divided against itself, and it will take work to even begin to fix these deep wounds.

Our economy remains in trouble. The markets have calmed a bit, and perhaps we have hit the bottom of the recession. Perhaps things will begin to climb upwards again. The problem, of course, is that you can only recognize the bottom in hind-sight.

Our foreign relations and social capital have been utterly obliterated in the past eight years. World leaders are making tentative motions towards Obama, and I can only hope that we begin to rebuild some of the good-will that we experienced years ago.

Our civil liberties have been utterly trampled upon, and for the most part, we have grown complacent about it. You hear the occasional angry voice, but most people don't even think about it. I am a strong believer in the need to fight for the rights of citizens against the government, and this is certainly an area where we have much work to do.

Our science and math education is pitiful. I've mentioned this one many times before, so I don't feel the need to blurb it. All I can say is that when we can have people seriously decrying money spent on basic science (i.e. Palin's fruit flies comments) and McCain's "overhead projector" nonsense about a planetarium...and these people are taken's not a good sign.

Obama has been elected, but despite McCain's rhetoric, he's still a fairly conservative politician working with a Congress that has largely gone along with Bush's policies over the past eight years, and a Supreme Court which cannot be very warm to him. Our political system has shifted, but it's a small shift. I also worry about the total control the Democrats have. The last times this happened, it didn't turn out well (Carter and Clinton, in case you were wondering). We ended up with Reagan and Bush. Keep that in mind. We have to light a fire under our politicians and keep them in line. Keep them working for the people.

These are only a few of the issues that still face us. There are plenty more, and I encourage you to put some down in the comments, if only to remember them and draw attention to them.

So, overall, I want to say that this is not the time for complacency. Celebrate! Rejoice! Sign unto the hills and valleys! But then we have to put our boots back on and go right back into the trenches. Now, more than ever, there is work to be done to combat discrimination, encroachment on civil liberties, and our faults in foreign policy, education, and research. We have taken a first few staggering and fearful steps forward, but we still clutch at apron strings. We will elect a black president, but we will not call gays and lesbians full human beings. This is not the signs of a perfected Union. It's a sign that we have to take stock of reality around us and do what we can to change it for the better.

I am glad that we have elected Obama. I do not agree with him on everything, and on some of his policies I am outright opposed. I do think he was the better choice, and I was glad to cast my ballot for him. I hope...I sincerely hope...that some of the inspiration he has built in our nation will continue its momentum and people will go out and get involved. As I've gotten older, I have come to expect more of both citizens and the government...I hope that others do not sit down and wait for Obama to change things for them. We have as much work to do as anyone.

I hope this finds you all well and recovering from post-election parties.

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