Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Time for a Cool Change

Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th U.S. President today, and what a ride it's been. To me, one of the most intriguing (and admirable) qualities of this man is how his pragmatism seems to defuse agendas.  In these past days, I've discussed this sea change in our national agenda with a number of friends, both Democrats and Republicans.  I find it very interesting that all but the most jaded Republicans -- who will never be happy with any Democratic President, regardless of what he is able to accomplish -- I've been speaking with acknowledge that Obama's still, cool waters run deep indeed, and that the fact that he is the best public speaker any of us has ever seen and a poster child for American intelligentsia does not, as previously alleged, imply a "Slick Willy-ness" beneath that impression.  Most see a good man with a good team seeking to reconcile a previously divided nation, and they are willing to give him a chance.

But the real surprise has been the number of those who ACTIVELY campaigned for and totally supported Obama and are now griping.  Everything from his decision to keep Gates as SOD to his nominees so far to his willingness to adjust his military agenda in accordance with what military leaders are telling him has been mentioned, and they all say the same thing: he promised one thing and now he's doing another. 

After his speech today -- what a speech, huh? -- I took my sons, Danny and Alex, out to lunch.  I wanted to spend some time with them today, and I probably sounded like an old codger when I explained to them why, to me, this day was so important not only for America, but for the world.  We had a lively conversation, and I told them to remember today because, one day, their grandkids will want to know about it.  Alex, my eldest (a junior at UF, my double alma mater), was in a hurry because he had his -- get this -- Korean History class at 1:50.  So we ate quickly, chatted more quickly, and Alex the sign-waving, mighty Democratic Reformer left me with a parting thought:  "Dad, I still support him fully but I would no longer call myself an Obama 'fan' ".

The reasons he said that were consistent with what most passionate Democrats are saying, the kind of stuff I mentioned above.  Basically, they want radical change and they want it now...but I am extremely glad that President Obama is, above all, a consensus-building reformer whose pragmatism dictates his actions.  We've had WAY too much of the opposite for eight years.

Yes, it is time for change.  BIG change.  But we have strayed so far from America's iconic role as THE global leader that an abrupt series of military, economic, immigration, etc. policy changes would turn this big tanker called the U.S. sideways with the momentum.  And going from upside down to sideways only causes more chaos, as we know from The Poseidon Adventure.  To continue with this analogy, it will take careful adjustments in the ballast to right this ship.  He who furiously lashes out against the quicksand is a goner, while he who studies his escape options has a fighting shot at freeing himself.

I believe that this dedication to understanding the facts is not only the OPPOSITE of inactivity, but the very essence of why this Chief Executive will excel in his new job.  Had this always been the case, we would not be at war, and the notion that carefully studying your options equals dilly-dallying is yesterday's tabloid news.  Reckless policy making has become standard in Washington, and knee-jerk responses to immigration enforcement, for example, have had devastating impact on both U.S. employers and working immigrants.  Grace under fire beats "damn the torpedoes", especially when everyone else has torpedoes, too.

It is indeed time for change, and since the election I've become a BIGGER fan of President Obama because under his leadership, it will be an intelligent, pragmatic change for the better.



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