It will take a while before we know what kind of change has come to Washington. It will take time before we know whether it is the kind we have hoped and dreamed. In the end, some will argue there wasn’t enough change, while others will say there was too much. One thing we know for sure, change has surely come to America.
There were so many times when it looked as if it could never happen. This columnist was gently chided for being a hopeless dreamer when I voiced the belief this country was ready for Barack Obama. There were times when I began to doubt I was right. There was so much baggage to overcome in the America in which I had grown up.
At 70, I had seen so much of it. I had grown up in a world where it was unthinkable not to toss your glassware away if a black person drank from it. It was a world where there was nothing lonelier than a multiracial kid. I had grown up in a world where Jackie Robinson had been mercilessly taunted for daring to break the color line in baseball. I was in Montgomery, Ala., the night federal troops had to rescue Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from a Baptist church. I had grown up in a world where a governor stood in the doorway of a school rather than let a black child pass through its gates.
Yet, I also grew up in a world of possibility, where Rosa Parks had refused to sit in the back of a bus, where the memories of Jackie and Dr. King were revered rather than scorned by the establishment. Now that world is welcoming a black man as the 44th president of the United States.
The joy that resonated in the cold air of Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009, was a lot like an old Negro spiritual that told of the travails and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit. Incredible as it seemed, America was shaking off the final vestiges of the hypocrisy that had shrouded the nation’s dream.
When we are through patting ourselves on the back for the new, mature country we have become we will have to get to work, for there is much to do and undo. History is a cruel mistress. She does not get all warm and fuzzy for too long. President Obama’s patience and wisdom will be tested early. Our problems were not created in a day and they won’t be solved in one either.
The new president’s capital will never be worth more. The last president squandered the goodwill that immediately followed 9/11, and history will punish him for it. Obama can’t afford to make the same mistake. His gestures in his first days in office to schedule the closing of the disgraceful Guantanomo prison and his directive to his military chiefs to plan for our withdrawal from Iraq are a good start.
The economy may wind up being his toughest challenge. Wall Street signaled its skepticism when the stock market took another nose dive on Inauguration Day. We are in uncharted waters with many questions and seemingly few answers.
The Middle East continues to be a tangled mess. It’s difficult to see any cease-fire between Israel and Hamas lasting without Hamas giving up the idea it can drive Israel into the sea. The first prerequisite to peace may be the Palestinians abandoning the no-hope strategy of supporting Hamas. How do we get out of Iraq without ceding control of the area to Iran? How do we keep from getting more deeply involved in Afghanistan without being dragged into another endless conflict?
Nuclear proliferation continues to threaten stability with countries such as Iran and North Korea trying to join the world nuclear club. There doesn’t appear to be anything we can do to prevent it, short of starting another war.
How do we guard against another terrorist attack without compromising our own Constitution? Only now is it becoming known the eavesdropping on American citizens was widespread and pervasive.
On the domestic front, the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy has been thoroughly discredited as a thinly disguised witch hunt on its gay members. Obama seems poised to end that policy.
It would seem the best way to enact major policy initiatives like health care and energy is to send Congress a comprehensive plan, not one it can nitpick to death. The new president can and should take advantage of the enormous goodwill that permeates the Capital. At the moment, it seems Republicans are inclined to give him a chance to enact his agenda and let him rise or fall on its merits.
Right now, the only certain thing is a change is gonna come.