I know I don't always accentuate the positive in this blog. I mean really, with a name spotlighting hellishness, I can't always latch onto the affirmative. But this year, this Thanksgiving, I'm making an exception. I just can't stop smiling, even when I'm tearing up. Thanksgiving is all about gratitude and I'm really feeling it right now.
I fell for Barack Obama early on. It started out as a respect for his eloquence. His speeches - his 2004 Democratic Convention speech, his speech on race and, more recently, his acceptance speech - will be taught in schools and quoted in other speeches for decades to come. That's because behind his well-crafted words is a depth, seriousness of purpose, a vision that have been missing from American politics for way too long. I hardly dared believe we could elect someone who doesn't dodge hard questions, play games or recommend going shopping as a solution to a crisis. I didn't think we Americans were capable any more of doing the right thing over the expedient, of embracing change over business as usual.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful that I was wrong. I am thankful that my son Greg, who is 15, has a role model who makes it cool to study hard, stay strong, aim high and do good for society, such as through some misguidedly maligned community organizing. Greg was only seven when Bill Clinton left office. Clinton was a smart guy who cared passionately about making the future better than the immediate past. It was tragic to see the improvements achieved during his eight years not just decimated but repudiated over the following eight years. But the fact is, Clinton will always live in the shadow of his lack of discipline. He did not leave office as a role model, for reasons I could only recently explain to my son (and even then it was an awkward conversation).
We all expect a lot of Obama. Around the world there is a faith in this man that brings a lump to the throat, but also fear to the heart. Who could live up to these expectations? Will Americans, and citizens of other nations with whom we are inextricably linked, be patient, supportive and self-sacrificing enough to make the steep climb Obama referred to in his acceptance speech?
I believe so, because I know things have changed. The shared experience on election night was unlike the shared experiences we have had as a country for many years: unlike the Clinton impeachment, unlike the 2000 election results, unlike 9/11, unlike Hurricane Katrina. Finally, it was a celebration we were sharing, not public shame or horror. It was an embrace of the new.
We have seen the damage that can be wrought by a provincial leader without intellectual curiosity or empathy for the poor and middle class. This Thanksgiving I am grateful that we had the collective wisdom to choose the personification of the opposite. I am grateful, as always, to be an American - just more than usual this year.