Smile Politely

Hope vs. Fear

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 marked what I believe to be the second most significant historical moment of my lifetime. While 9/11 brought years of questions, fears to those who were previously fearless, and many ideological divides to the forefront of politics, the change ushered in by the election of Barack Obama brings immediate hope to a hopeless generation, my generation. Before I continue, I want to say, I understand the historical significance of Obama’s election, but it’s not Obama I’m writing about. This is a political awakening. In that crowd last Tuesday night, the political strength of hope finally overcame that of fear.

On 9/11, America’s ever expanding values of power, prosperity, diversity and democracy were all undermined in one morning’s events. Despite the carnage, what scared us most was that not only were our ideals under attack, but our foes proved that their conviction was stronger than ours. While we might question our God, they wage war and sacrifice lives in the name of theirs.

America awoke from these events in the only way she knew how. The Middle East, the Taliban, Oil Money, Muslims, Immigrants, Street Drugs, etc. — they all became enemies of the state, and they all snuck their influences into our borders. Many of us in America asked, “Why do they hate us; what can we do to change?” Meanwhile other Americans wondered if our military arsenal was sufficient to remove the Middle East from the map. For the last seven years, America has looked like the dog that must chase its tail with every sight, attacking our own freedoms from within. In retrospect, our decisions could have been better, but who expected this?

While our leaders fixated on enemies and blindly passed legislation in the name of fear, the rest of us bickered about “petty” politics, bought ribbon bumper stickers, focused on church or family — we did anything we could to feel “free.” To borrow a phrase, we were rearranging the furniture while the house burned down. Although we all wanted to ask, “What the hell are we doing about the hole in downtown Manhattan?”, we already knew that nobody had the answer.

The reason I phrase the last paragraph in the past-tense is because after seeing that crowd in Chicago on Tuesday, the fear that I’d grown to live with seemed to unexpectedly disappear. Don’t get me wrong, terrorism isn’t over, the threats against our culture will continue, and restoring international relationships hasn’t even begun. But anyone who watched Obama speak before a sea of believers at Grant Park on Tuesday night knows that “change,” as much as I hate to use the long worn-out phrase, “is on the way.”

The America that I know, the one represented by my peers, by those I respect, by those who innovate, those who donate, those who care, is not the America that has been represented by our politicians in Washington. The terrorist attacks cast so much doubt and despair that in its wake the progressive ideals of America’s greatest minds continually fell upon deaf ears. Immediately following 9/11/2001, America quit being America.

Barack Obama has a quality that I’ve yet to see in any other person in my life. I consider him an anomaly, but the significance of what happened on Tuesday is, in my opinion, much bigger than one man or his political platform. My entire generation has been labeled as introverted, apathetic atheists and worse, but on that night in Grant Park, that image changed. Somehow, this man and his ideas got us excited. Everyone in that crowd may have been excited for different reasons, but knowing that the image of Grant Park and Obama’s speech was being broadcast around the world was touching, to say the least. At that moment I could say, “This is America and this is beautiful.” Before our eyes, this melting pot of a country was shedding the baggage of seven years of fear, seven years of doubt, and seven years of hurt.

One hundred and forty seven years ago, during his own acceptance speech, Abraham Lincoln said to a divided country the same words that Barack Obama spoke to a divided world:

We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

The point I make in all this really has very little to do with politics or Obama’s agenda, and more to do with a voice; a voice that is growing louder, a voice that, for once in my life, sounds a little bit like my own. Honestly, I guess I do, for better or worse, care about our president-elect’s agenda, but I care much more about the fact that people of all ages, races and income levels are, for once, listening. Some are even hoping.

America’s voice loudly proclaimed that in a time of fear we must remain hopeful. When the world’s greatest superpower governs with fear, it negatively affects the policies of every country in the world. Obama leads me to believe that although we might be fearful, united we can be brave. And now, that man is weeks away from taking that message of hope into the White House. Here’s to the smiling faces in Grant Park on Tuesday night — I hope your optimism spans the world.

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