Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Research shows our brain plays tricks on us. Our memories are faulty; not only that, we often feel certain about things that turn out not to be true.  These brain quirks make for faux-pas and awkward moments. Best-selling author and theologist Neale Walsch had to own up to appropriating someone else’s heartwarming story of a spiritual experience as his own. Closer to home, we may know someone who “remembers” marching on Washington, attending Woodstock, watching the Twin Towers fall or, soon enough, seeing the U.S Airways plane land in the Hudson River.

I planned to be at this historic, emotional, long-overdue and endlessly hyped Inaugural. True, I was having doubts about massive crowds, wind chills, Jumbo-trons and porta-potties. I wasn’t sure I was going, but I reserved the right to change my mind at the last minute. I had a standing invitation to stay at a buddy’s house, a few scattered events I could attend and a full tank of gas. I had still considered heading to brave natural and human elements  – until my encounter with a patch of ice (see previous post) ended my dreams of connecting to a part of history.

Not so fast.

This new President is all about being connected.  I’m always getting e-mails and text messages from Team Obama, of  which I’m apparently a member.  Like the campaign, the Inaugural invites participation. There’s something to be said for the virtual involvement allowed by YouTube, Facebook, mybarack.com and CNN on-line. And there’s always television.

So Saturday I watched the Inaugural train make its way from Philadelphia and listened to Obama’s latest YouTube chat. Sunday I had front-row seats at the concert on the Mall; I even danced with Michelle to Stevie Wonder. Monday, I logged onto U.S.A. Service to register my service act – I’ll be volunteering at a woman’s shelter. The political action group Emily’s List invited me to send a personal congratulatory note to the President and Vice-President-elect. I even found some local public events I might attend in place of the Inaugural Balls for which I never had a shot at securing a ticket (although, ever the optimist, I had lined up an escort).

Today, the day of the Inaugural itself, I signed onto Facebook, turned on the TV and poured the first of several cups of coffee. My girlfriend Donna was sending live updates from the Mall via her Blackberry (side note: I say let the President keep his Blackberry). On NBC, Ann Curry noted American flags were everywhere, signifying hope, in her view. We’re back to America as a symbol of hope; I nearly wept. On the TV and computer screens, I saw old people, lots of young people (excellent!), lots of different kinds of people. It looked like a block party or maybe a rock concert. I wished for a minute I was there, and I wished my dad was alive. All normal feelings; I let them wash over me.  I was safe and warm and a witness. So…I posted a picture to Huffington Post of me, my cast and my computer. I exchanged e-mails with far-flung friends and comments with far-flung strangers, stopping to rest my good hand. I watched the procession of dignitaries, enjoyed the musical performances (the quartet was sublime; Aretha was, sorry to say, not at her best), considered the invocations and benedictions to be decent enough, experienced the swearing-in (did this really happen?), absorbed the Speech, which was amazing in its depth and breadth (but did we expect less?), saw the parade, and hung out virtually with millions of people from all over the world. I saw it all, heard it all, felt it all.  I could even have attended a live reception in my hometown but to tell, the truth, I was pretty tired after the day’s activities and excitement. Besides, I had to see the doctor about getting a new cast.

I wasn’t physically in DC for the Inauguration of the 44th President and I won’t remember that I was, but, in a way that is absolutely appropriate to this new, globally connected era, I was there.


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Thank Goodness

‘Tis indeed the winter of our discontent. It’s freezing cold. The days still seem too short. Bills are due.  Quarterly taxes and property taxes are due (at least mine are). Income is stagnant or going south. You aren’t headed south, however, especially if you happen to slip on the damned ice and break your wrist, which I did.

So now I’ve got six weeks in a cast, trying to eke out assignments one-handed and cursing the Fates for my latest bout with bad luck. Except I’m not going to do that.  Yes, my wrist hurts – actually, all of me hurts. No, I can’t drive or do most of the things I’d planned. But I am resolved not to drive myself or my sainted sister who is helping me while she’s attending graduate school full time crazy. Instead, I’m going to play a little game I made up called “thank goodness” (or “thank god” for those less easily offended).  It involves coming up with a list of things that could be worse  before which you can say “thank goodness”.  I know, but give me a break; I’m supporting a sling and a cast around a neck with two herniated disks. Whoops, I’d better start playing!

Thank goodness:

  • I broke my left wrist, since I’m right-handed
  • I live in a place where neighbors rushed out to help when I yelled and even walked my dog
  • I had a cell phone and could call my sister, who lives nearby
  • I have health insurance

See how it works? It’s tricky for someone in my position who might prefer throwing herself a pity party, but it’s definitely worth the effort in terms of overall mental and physical health. Best of all, it can be applied to any situation. For example, thank goodness:

  • I didn’t end up scoring any Inaugural invitations, since I wouldn’t have been able to go
  • The Inauguration is actually, finally going to take place and last November wasn’t a dream
  • The pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 knew how to land on water
  • There may– may — be a cease-fire in Gaza
  • Patrick Swayze appears to have beaten back his pneumonia attack

 Of course, somewhere in the bowels of February, when it seems spring will never come, President Obama will never get a handle on our domestic and foreign policy messes and my cast will never come off, I may have trouble playing my little game. I only hope I can come up with something like “thank goodness I’ve learned to type with one hand.”

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I can’t believe it came as much of a surprise that we’ve been in a recession since last December. Of course, we all probably hoped the recession wouldn’t prove to be as long or as deep as some projected. Well, now that we know we’re a year in, we can hope that the end is in sight.

What’s not to like about hope, right? Face it, our capacity to hope, even when faced with external forces beyond our control or internal demons that pull us towards the abyss, is truly astounding. Though we currently have reason to despair – over the economy, over the constant threat of terrorism (and now piracy!), or over the fact that home ownership, health care coverage and now higher education seem to be out of reach for many Americans – we can rejoice, my friends, because hope floats above the gray skies of our nation’s capitol. Probably not precisely the hope our newly-elected President was thinking about when he wrote his best-seller but we’ll take what we can, er, hope for.

Democrats may have to give up their hopes for a filibuster-proof Senate but they still hope for enough muscle to engage in payback. Republicans hope to escape severe reprisals and experience the kind of bipartisan cooperation they never considered back in the days of their ascendancy. Liberal elements of the Democratic Party hope Obama’s choice of so many Clinton advisers doesn’t signal a move to the center-right; moderates and even conservatives feel they have reason to hope it signals an non-partisan pragmatism. State Department types hope Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton will rely on their hard-earned expertise. Fans of Governor Bill Richardson hope he’s not too upset about being bypassed for Secretary of State.  Fans of Governor Janet Napolitano hope she’ll get Homeland Security organized. Although former Senator Tom Daschle may have hoped to be Chief of Staff, health care advocates feel hopeful he’ll jump-start reform.

Of course, the current Treasury Secretary Paulson hopes his ever-changing game plan works for the economy and the Big Three auto makers hope for a windfall. That’s where hope gets audacious but then again, if you’re going to hope, why not hope big?

Comics hope they’ll be able to find something funny about the new administration (hint: look at the Cabinet). Dog lovers hope the Obamas discover hypo-allergenic mixed breeds besides the Peruvian hairless dog. Classmates at Sidwell Friends, where the Obama girls will attend school, hope they’ll get invited to a party at the White House. Actually, DC hostesses and club owners alike are hoping members of the new administration will want to party. Almost anyone who did anything in any field office during the Obama campaign now hopes to work in the Obama administration. Millions of people hope to get Inaugural tickets or attend even if they don’t. DC-area residents hope to get obscene amounts of money for their humble abodes as hotels fill to over-capacity. District police, not to mention Federal security agencies, hope they can handle the record number of visitors expected for the events. NBC hopes David Gregory will be happy hosting “Meet the Press” until Matt Lauer retires from the “Today” show to do something else – like, say evening anchor at CBS.

It’s good to have hope.

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Sometimes I think I’m prescient (actually, I think I come up with ideas at the same time or slightly ahead of other people who are far more established, possessed of name recognition, book deals, sharp agents and better meta-tags that draw more people to their web sites. Oh well). My latest ah-ha moment took place while looking through my current copy of O, the magazine of all things Oprah. Its chirpy emphasis on self-discovery can get annoying, but where else will you find inspirational stories, customized advice columns, wide-ranging book recommendations and information on where to buy great handbags for under $100?


Anyway, it occurred to me that a President who drops book references as casually as Martha Stewart might lean over during lunch and craft your napkin into a centerpiece could be as influential as Oprah when it comes to promoting his favorite reads. Guess it’s obvious, since an article appeared in the paper about the value of a plug from the president-elect; this after the hoopla over three current books on FDR, one of which he may have referenced in a 60 Minutes interview. He didn’t even name the book, yet those three writers have benefited from the attention. Now most non-fiction authors, including yours truly, are trying to figure out how to get on the reading list of our next President. 


What better way to try and understand what he’s thinking, or what he’ll be doing, than to find out what he reads? Is Doris Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln the inspiration behind his outreach to Hillary for Secretary of State (and what might inspire Hillary to decline it: It’s A Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments?) Does his off-handed mention of a book about FDR’s first hundred days (whichever book it is) suggest how he will govern during economic hard times? Isn’t his own The Audacity of Hope really a blueprint for his political philosophy?



Of course we can always read books about Obama although they seem to veer between adulatory and vitriolic. I’d rather try and read what he’s reading, along with my usual escapist fare. I have a feeling that, as busy as he is about to be, he could help me keep my bedside bookshelf stocked for the next several years. Meanwhile, I can always pick and choose from among Oprah’s recommendations if I want to know what America’s most influential woman is reading – at least until I get a look at Michelle’s book list.

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Ever notice how great you feel when something stops hurting? It’s a fantastic experience, that is, until you start to notice other aches and pains that had been pushed away while you were dealing with this particular hurt. Now maybe those of you for whom middle age is a long ways away can’t relate but for many of us, that odd sensation of being relieved and uncomfortable at the same time is familiar.

Something similar is happening to my view of the cultural landscape. Tension over race, thankfully never very high in my corner of the world, seems to have virtually dissipated since the election of Barack Obama. Maybe I’m imagining it but people of color – or rather I should say, people of various colors and skin tones – seem to be more relaxed around each other. I swear I’m seeing more television commercials featuring African-Americans. I can’t say for certain whether we’ve come to a point where we are, if not colorblind, then not much worried about the whole subject (there are, after all, bigger things to worry about), but lessening that particular pain feels terrific.

Behind the euphoria even Obama opponents have been feeling lies another reality that hurts –  the unfortunate victories of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures in Florida and Arizona. On election night, voters in those states passed referendums that explicitly, that is Constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage (Arkansas voters meanwhile approved an initiative that bans people who are “cohabiting outside a valid marriage” from serving as foster parents or adopting children). There are now thirty states that have banned marriage between two consenting adults of the same gender. Likely the issue will bounce back to the courts but the impetus driving it will continue.

Proponents of the measures insist there is no bias; these are not “anti-gay” measures but simply efforts to preserve traditionally defined notions of marriage. What does that mean? Well, Wikipedia defines marriage as “a social, religious, spiritual, or legal union of individuals.” That covers a lot of territory and carries a lot of cross-cultural weight. It seems to be an important institution to most of us. True, there are people who live together as a family unit, with kids but without marriage, i.e., Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell; Susan Sarandon & Tim Robbins. But for most people living in the United States, marriage is the ultimate social, religious, spiritual and legal commitment, a desire to commit to a stable and loving partnership in the eyes of the law, one’s family and friends, the neighbors, and whichever God one may be worshipping.

The argument that allowing same-sex marriage will undermine the social value of marriage is undercut on many levels. The original purpose of a marriage contract was to protect the partner with far less standing in society, i.e. the female. Marriage also offers protection to the offspring of the couple, at least legally. yet times have changed. Nowadays, a majority of the women in the United States are single and equal to men before the law and couples and single people are having children out of wedlock. While opponents of same-sex marriage like to talk about the sanctityof the institution (a decidedly socio-religious concept that has found its way into law), they are hard-pressed to explain divorce and adultery rates. Seems to me if the institution of marriage is under siege, it’s silly to blame couples who, despite the lack of respect heterosexual couples have shown for it, still want to honor their commitment to each other through legal, social and yes, religious validation.

The motivating force behind these ballot initiatives isn’t religion or concern for social stability – it’s fear, the basis of most biases. Some people aren’t comfortable with the idea of homosexual anything for reasons too numerous to detail here. Personally, I can’t see the downside of allowing two people who love each other to marry, regardless of gender. To those who say they can’t “imagine” what takes place behind closed doors, I’d suggest they might try using their imaginations more constructively.

Life may be easier on the east coast for now. Connecticut joins Massachusetts in allowing marriages between consenting adults of any sex and New Jersey and perhaps even New York aren’t far behind. I’d think any gay couples seeking marriage and family, in spite of the formidable odds they face these days, are the couples you want in your neighborhoods, your schools, your PTA, or your bridge games. Theirs is an optimistic, almost quaint aspiration for recognition as viable members of a society that too often undermines the stability it claims to revere.

If the pundits are to be believed, the election proves we are on the cusp of a new era of wide-reaching acceptance of and comfort with diversity. Excellent. Now let’s use our newly open hearts and minds to expand the notion a bit more. Otherwise, all we’ve done is declare that gay is the new black.

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The day after the evening of the DAY, I woke up feeling a little surreal. I knew something momentous had happened that had captured everyone’s attention, something neither horrific, like 9/11, terrible, like the financial meltdown (admittedly an ongoing discussion) nor strange and superficial, like Susan Lucci’s weird goodbye speech on “Dancing with the Stars”. Apparently, we’d elected a young, thin, African-American person with a young, attractive family to be President of the United States. Equally apparent, this occasioned even more professional/amateur, thoughtful/inane, heartfelt/petty commentary than usual. With so many people writing and talking so much through so many outlets and all of us gobbling it up, I thought it might be interesting to single out for special notice some of the more interesting incidents, as well as various sample comments, reactions and analysis I spotted during my slog through the blanket coverage.


Most moving election-night visual: the shots of the crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park

Most over-exposed visual: the shots of the crowd in Grant Park

Shot of the crying face that got to me: Jesse Jackson

Shot of the crying face that didn’t do it for me: Oprah

Weirdest TV moment: CNN’s use of holograms, which was like watching a sputtering Starship Transporter (“Beam me up, Scotty.” “I’m trying!”). Bring back split screen.

Most over-the-top commentator:Chris Matthews on MSNBC

Most restrained commentator: Andersen Cooper on CNN. Didn’t he want to poke his hand through those holograms?

Most gracious speech: McCain’s concession speech; where was that guy during the campaign?

Near-miss moment: Sarah Palin apparently showed up ready to deliver one of two versions of her speech before McCain’s. Aides nixed the idea.

Oddest international snapshot: the Japanese crowds yelling for Obama

Most moving international snapshot: the young Palestinian shown drawing a picture of Obama along with a dove holding an olive branch. Lots of expectations reflected in that sketch.

Most hysterical blog post: Andy Borowitz, with the post title, “Failure to Blow Election Stuns Democrats”

Most interesting offer: Sarah Palin offering to help Obama craft his energy policies. Um, thanks a lot.

Most tepid congratulatory comment imaginable: Jim Manzi in the National Review, who said: “I continue to believe that Barack Obama is likely to be a poor President who will attempt to implement policies that will be detrimental to the national interest…. But I’m spending today proud abut what my country has overcome.” Um, thanks a lot.

Coolest comment: In an article about what kind of social life Washington can expect, Christopher Buckley, lately of National Review until he endorsed Obama (welcome to the dark side, Chris) wrote in the NY Times, “He’s a cool cat and I think he’s going to bring cool catness back…” 

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My father, who was a fan of recitation, frequently used the phrase from an ancient Persian proverb, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” to remind us about gratitude and, I think to keep us aware of perspective. Perspective – the ability to step back, take the long view, see the big picture – is, to my way of thinking, one of life’s great coping tools. I’m amazed at how difficult a concept it is for most of us to grasp.


Perspective: I have pain in my hip and lower back caused by disappearing disc material at the bottom of my spine, not to mention my neck. The condition, I guess you’d call it, is irreversible, but it is manageable as long as I keep exercising and stay abreast of various low-level pain medications. I could feel sorry for myself and I do, on occasion. Then I think about Patrick Swayze, who’s working 12-hour days on the set of his new show despite a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, almost always fatal.


Perspective: My friend is absolutely terrified about her post-graduate kids’ job prospects in this economy. She can’t imagine it being worse, although it seemed pretty bad back in the seventies and eighties when I was hopelessly job-hunting and living in cities whose drug-infested neighborhoods were a lot less safe to live in. Not only that; the clothes were worse. If you don’t remember or weren’t around, check out the new ABC show Life On Mars.


Perspective: This is the most frightening world we’ve ever lived in, says my cousin, forgetting perhaps, the time she spent as a schoolgirl cowering in a fall-out shelter in the early sixties under near-constant threat of nuclear annihilation.


Perspective: I’m slaving over this blog in near total anonymity while Samuel Werzelbacher, AKA Joe the Plumber contemplates a record deal. Okay, I admit I have NO perspective in this instance; it just seems wrong.


Perspective: A blogger on Huffington Post recently suggested that fully half the voters will, if their candidate loses, sink into a state of despair so severe they may never recover. I guess that’s the downside of having an election everyone is so passionate about but I seem to remember friends threatening to leave the country in 2000…and 1980…and 1972. Somehow, we stayed in place and even survived.


It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times but it always seems what’s happening in the moment is the most consequential thing happening ever. It’s understandable, given how imperfect our memories are. Not only that, this really has been the longest, most expensive, most expansive, most analyzed, covered, dissected and ubiquitous campaign ever. It will certainly make history and it certainly deserves our attention and our participation. Oh yeah, I really, really want my candidates to win. But win or lose, I’m going to get up Wednesday, stretch my back and get to work.



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