Barack Obama - President of the United States of America

Yesterday's election was one of historic shifts. Here are my observations.

1. First African-American President - From my perspective this is the best, most special aspect of Obama's victory. It marks a turning point that makes possible other turning points.  He has accomplished what none of the African-American leaders of my generation have been able to do. Barack Obama was able to transcend race without diminishing its importance. As an African-American of a mixed race heritage, I wonder if his ascendancy would have been quite as smooth without the rise and influence of Tiger Woods. Here another African-American of mixed race ancestry changed the face of golf, opening up the game to people of all backgrounds. Tiger did this by being the best at every facet of the game.  Barack Obama reminds me of Tiger in that he is smart, disciplined and focused on precisely what he knows he must do.  Regardless of how effective Obama will be as president, and he has tremendous problems before him, he will be a person of global influence to billions of ethnic young people who now know that they are only limited by their imagination and persistence in getting to the top.

2. The Rise of the Younger Generation Voter - Though I have not seen any numbers about the turnout by generation, my impression is that Barack Obama was able to do what past candidates of both parties have not been successful in doing, and that is turning a younger generation's interest into votes. This is more significant than simply the votes cast. It is a statement by my children's generation that they want a greater say in how their country is governed. I welcome that because our political culture had become too narrow, too reactionary, too predictable, and too controlled by power blocks with both parties. This generational cohort is more liberal than my generation. What they want is something different than what they have received from their parents' generation. Whether this is a trend or an historic anomaly is unknown. Barack Obama has branded himself as the symbol of Hope and Change for this generation. And as numerous commentators have pointed out, the specifics are vague which allows for each individual to endow Obama with their own Hope for Change. He has become the personification of their own hopes for the future. Can he fulfill the high expectations that these young people have in him. I don't know.  It is a huge burden.  The more important question is whether he can lead them to see their own role in civic life of the nation. Being involved with an election campaign is one thing, but contributing to the common good on a regular basis requires commitment and self-sacrifice. My experience with many of these young people is that they love to participate in acts of service. Let's see if Obama can expand their perception of what is possble through their own initiative to give back.

3.  The Changing Place of Partisanship and Political Ideology - This election was marked by less partisanship, apart from both candidates running away from George Bush, than in the past. Granted Barack Obama cut his political teeth on being a partisan of the Democratic Left.  His principles are similar to those of European Social Democrats. Yet, his campaign was more centrist. John McCain, the maverick Republican, has always been a centrist. He is a pragmatic legislator, not a political ideologue. Some may say he failed to win because he wasn't ideological enough. Others will say that he was ideological in the wrong way, that he misunderstood what this campaign required. However, from my perspective, what I think is the more telling shift is toward the need for a new ideology for governing. Both the Democrats and Republicans did not select mainstream candidates to run. They chose those who would bring change. What is the change they would bring? Most likely, an openness to new ways of solving old problems. While not all negative partisanship was missing from the race, where it did, it was not all together successful, as seen in particular in my home state of North Carolina, as Elizabeth Dole lost her Senate seat to Kay Hagan, primarily, in my opinion, because she ran the same old negative Republican campaign that the North Carolina Republican Party has run since the days of Jesse Helms.

As an observer of these ideological trends, I believe we are at the beginning of a major global ideological shift, and the Left will have to show it is capable of governing, and avoiding the problems their European counterparts created by similar policies, if they are sustain their success yesterday.  The most significant challenge will not be whether they can managed the economy, but whether they can deal with global terrorism, and the support it receives from nations that provide us oil and other commodities.  On the other side, can the Right retool their message of free markets and small government for a time where the federal government will be looked to solve more and more social and economic problems.  George Bush failed to change the Republican Party and its future is in question.

The two developments that I am most interested in is to see who will emerge as the one who will follow Barack Obama, and who will rise to recapture the mantel of Ronald Reagan that has been lost since the ascent of George Bush.  Both require new generations of young political leaders to emerge who can follow much in the same path as Obama.  Whether you like him or not, voted for him or not, for the time being he is now the measuring stick of the 21st century political leader.

4. The Nature of Change - Barack Obama won his election with a campaign for change. I believe virtually everyone who voted yesterday would agree that change is needed. But the question what kind of change, and at what cost. Is it change that produces greater efficiencies, or is it change that begins on the inside and results in a dramatic reordering of American government and its institutions. My reticence to support Obama was his redistributionist philosophy. I believe it is divisive, ultimately self-defeating, and results in lowering the standard of living of the nation because you can't grow the economy by finessing the tax code. The aim of improving the lives of the poor and the middle class is a noble, worthy one. If Obama is about change, then he needs to address the issue of family structure, the purpose and content of public education, and, in particular, how to change the plight of minority men in our culture.

5. Personal Responsibility - One of the perceptions about Barack Obama as president is that he will open the financial coffers of the federal government to help people. I've heard people on the television, the radio and in person discuss their response to his possible election. Some spoke of closing their business because they could not afford the increased tax payments that they expected under an Obama presidency. Others spoke of working less because the government would provide for them. I think the reality is that each of us has to accept personal responsibility for the welfare of the nation. We do this by taking personal responsibility for our own lives, of our families and our community. If the Hope that people have in Obama is that he'll solve all their problems, then their hope is not realistic, and doomed to disappointment. However, if they understand that in a complex, changing world, they must do all they can to develop and exercise the skills of self-reliance and community service, then the Hope for Change embodied in Barack Obama will find success.

I offer my congratulations to President-elect Obama. May God grant you the humility and grace to lead our nation into an unknown future.

Election Day in America

In the USA, today is election day. 
There are elections of all sorts today. The presidential election is the most publicized, but there are hundreds of elections today for other offices in national, state and local government.

I hope you will vote.  It is a right, not a privilege. It is a responsibility, not a burden. It is an opportunity, not a problem. 

To vote is not the end of our responsibilities as citizens, but the beginning. Once you've voted, stay informed, get involved, contribute and make a difference in your local community.

The polls are open. Go vote. If for some reason, you don't know where your polling place is, go this Facebook page, you can find out.

The change they won't touch

Election seasons bring out the reactionary in me. The lies, slander and vague promises of change by candidates bothers me tremendously.

Both presidential candidates claim the change mantle. However, neither has addressed what to me is the more important long term crisis facing our country.  Neither discusses with any specificity how they will reduce the national debt. Complaints about the debt are not solutions. They are diversions from the real issue, which is spending.

The spending issue goes to a fundamental philosophy of governance that both parties have adopted. That is they spend money to demonstrate that they are doing the people's work. As a result businesses and community organizations across the country look to the federal government for various means to secure their economic viability. It is this economic codependence that troubles me for two reasons.

One is that this forces elected officials to compete for support from voters by showing how much federal tax dollars can be allocated by Congress to local projects.  These earmarks are a corrupting element in business, the non-profit world and government.  They remove the responsibility of the average citizen for the care of his or her local community.  Instead, the federal government is responsible.

For example, did you know that in the bail out bill there were earmark appropriations?  Here we are facing the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression, and members of Congress are padding the legislation with local earmarks that essentially are intended to get them votes in a month.

Does this not trouble you?

There is a corrupting influence at work here. It is not only ethically corrupting, but also logically so. What ends up happening is that the political value of earmarks with the every increasing transfer of wealth from citizens to the federal government and back to special local interests changes the decision-making process in Congress. It is no longer what is best for the people and the nation, but what is best for me and the party.

The second reason this troubles me, and what steams me about our presidential candidates, is that the rising cost of the federal government is not an issue for them. Right now, my guess is that Barrack Obama will be our next President. Based on reading his policy statement online, my assumption is that he will become the most expensive President in US history. His orientation is to be a problem solver, yet the one problem he won't touch is the size of the US government. In appears that it will grow under an Obama administration, because his solutions all are centered in a governmental response. 

What I derived from the two campaigns is that they think that by finessing the tax structure, with tax breaks and tax increases, that they can resolve all these financial problems. I have serious doubts about their abilities to do this.  As the system currently exists, there is no incentive to do so.

As I said earlier, elections make me reactionary in ways that I am not normally prone to become. For the record, I have not joined the Obama band wagon. And I find McCain's appeal to his personal character of courage under fire and practice of a maverick reformer insufficient for what confronts us as a nation and a global community. I find neither of their appeals to change particularly convincing. Obama's is more a style change, and McCain far too narrow in focusing on reform alone.

So, I'm looking for a president who is more fiscally responsible for the whole cost of government. We'll see if either of them are up to the task.  I wish I was more optimistic about the prospects of the next administratoin, regardless of who wins.

What if neither is the right man?

Peggy Noonan echoes what I've been feeling and have been trying to write about this week.

The economic crisis brings a new question, unarticulated so far but there, and I know because when I mention it to people they go off like rockets. It is: Do you worry that neither of them is up to it? Up to the job in general? Is either Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama actually up to getting us through this and other challenges? I haven't heard a single person say, "Yes, my guy is the answer." A lot of shrugging is going on out there. This is a read not only on the men but on the moment.

This is my question too. Everyone I know has already decided. There is no discussion, no inquiry, no debate.  And to a large extent, their votes are negative, not FOR their candidate, but against the other, and in particular George Bush. That is no basis for a selection.

This is what drove me to the postings over the past several days. It is what drove me to read the policy statements on their websites.

My honest impression is that these are two very different men with a singular quality for getting elected, but not necessarily for governing. I find them too narrow, too self-focused, too Senatorial.

John McCain, the maverick reformer who becomes a lightning rod for concentrating conservative anger toward corrupt and inefficient government. Barrack Obama, the evangelist of hope who knows how to wow an audience and raise money, but not much more.

Noonan raises another more disturbing question.

I wonder if we follow the election so passionately because we're afraid. We're afraid a lot of our national problems are intractable, and the future too full of challenge.

We cannot tolerate feeling this way. So we make believe the election can change everything. And we follow it passionately to convince ourselves its outcome will be decisive and make everything better. We reassure ourselves with pictures of the cheering crowds at the rally. We even find some comfort in the latest story of the latest dirty trick. But deep inside we think: Ah, that won't work either.

Some part of me thinks we are all making believe this is a life-changing election because we know it's not a life-changing election. Ever have that thought? Me too. Then there's a rally or a scandal or a gaffe, and it passes.

I too wonder this. And it leads me to this conclusion...

This election is not about Obama or McCain, not about the Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, or any other single issue party.  It is about US. Not the United States, but We The People

Problems are intractable when the people who can change them don't. Over the past five years or so, I've become more convinced that hope lies not in a person, but in people. Individual people doing what they should do on their own initiative.

The most telling example of this mass initiative for change was the response to Hurricane Katrina. I've been down the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and New Orleans several times. I've met people who decided that there was no longer anyone to give them permission to act, and they act on their own accord. There is Kathleen in Waveland, who hopped on a truck with her construction tools, headed to Mississippi from Illinois, spent three weeks working, went home, closed up her house and moved to Waveland to start a relief and repair organization. She's an amazing woman.

People don't take initiative like this because of their government. They do it because they feel compelled to do it. It is a part of their character to do it.

The key to our future is not in Washington but in each home in America. It is each person deciding on their own to do something to make a difference. If there is no credit to pay for a new home or fix one up, then we establish the community relations to create a system of barter than enables peoples' needs to be met. That is one answer to an intractable problem.

Yes, we need a different type of leadership in Washington. But that won't happen until We The People become the kind of leaders that that different kind of president can lead. It starts with us. Not them.