January 21, 2009
So What Do I Do Now?
By Mary Lyon
This is a heckuva hangover. More than just the sun dawned on me on the morning after Obama Day. I realized as I woke up following the Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States that I'm not sure how to behave anymore.
For eight years I've felt like a hostage. This might as well have been a lesser version of Gitmo from where I stood. It's been sheer torture watching America taking its cue from the George W. Bush way of operating and literally devolving. I've spent eight years gritting my teeth when a view of the White House flashed across my TV. I could never look at that view without thinking how that house had been stolen out from Al Gore and all the rest of us. I'd think about the occupant within and find it impossible even to refer to him as President. I just couldn't. Still can't, if you really wanna know. He just was never The President, to me. Didn't win fair and square the first time. The results the second time are sufficiently questionable in my mind that I couldn't warm up to him then, either. And considering the ham-handed behavior of the bullies and goons surrounding him at all times, there was literally nothing to convince me otherwise. For that entire period, I simply didn't have a President. And I've gotten used to that.
So used to it by now that it's an odd new feeling for me to hear myself uttering the phrase "my President." It's even more strange to realize that I'm saying it and meaning it - for the first time in eight years.
And I scarcely know what to do with myself. I'm not sure how to behave anymore. The newly-inaugurated President of the United States, MY newly-inaugurated President of the United States, has set a new tone alright. America woke up a different nation on the first morning in which he presides. We're more united than ever, we're feeling exhilarated again, rousing from a crushingly bleak freeze and daring to strain into a deep, long stretch. There's a sense of renewal and invigoration, and yes, hope. We're all like tiny, tentative crocus buds slowly rising to peek through the snow as the worst of a ferociously harsh winter passes. We're certainly happier. And looking at Barack Obama and his wife and daughters - now living in the White House and setting the style and tone for our nation - we can finally confirm that we're everything we say we are in America. The presidency is no longer an exclusive club which some of us can never envision joining.
President Obama invites us to reach out with open hands - to those who might actually be talked into opening their own hands instead of keeping them in clenched fists. Now there's something I can still relate to. The clenched fists part. Mine still are. The behavior I grew far too accustomed to, the dialogue, the national discourse, for the past eight years (no, longer even, considering the political climate when then-President Clinton was routinely batted around like a national piñata by conservatives, Republicans, and manipulated, intimidated, and biased media outlets), was horrid. And horrifying.
As someone who opposes wars of aggression and choice, torture and extraordinary rendition, unrestrained free-market orgies, unaccountable leaders, the sell-out of civil rights, and intrusive government into private lives and principles, I felt pretty darned batted around, too. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. Endangered, demonized, scorned, mocked, bullied, and threatened. I've had fists raised against me because somebody didn't like my anti-Iraq War sign. I've had my tires slashed and my car keyed because somebody didn't like my anti-war, anti-Bush bumper stickers. I've had murderous and menacing looks aimed my way by people who didn't like how I felt or what I thought, or where I stood. I was a Democrat - indeed, even worse: a Liberal Democrat, and therefore, I was regarded as little more than another enemy of the state.
It's left me with fists in an almost permanent clench. I know what President Obama said during his inauguration speech. I know how he invited me, personally, to open hands and heart as the work to heal and rehabilitate our nation begins. I know all about the tone he's set for a new national discourse, new American priorities, and a new spirit of hope, inclusion, forgiveness, and reaching out. I know. And it sounds great - just what we need. It's just hard to get my mind or my gut around - yet. Old habits are hard to break. I still want to grab the first Republican or Bush supporter or media apologist I see and turn him or her over my knee. Unlike my President, I don't want to reach out, and be open to the "other side." I don't want to give the likes of McConnell and Boehner and Krauthammer and Kristol a seat at the table or a fair hearing. Or even an open mind. Never mind an open hand.
The damage they've done, the hurt they encouraged, the pain they authored, the sins they committed and the sinners they covered for disqualifies them in my mind from any reasonable response, courtesy or kindness. I don't want to listen to ANYTHING they have to say, much less take their views into consideration. As THEIR president, George W. Bush once said to some hapless opponent - "who cares what you think?" And I don't. They've already had their say. They've forced us all to listen and bow in silence. They've had their turn to run things and do it their way, and look where we are as a nation - what a mess we're in and how much work there is for all of us if we ever hope to get any of it cleaned up. My instinct after all this time, toward all those who vilified people like me as traitorous and un-American and resolutely tried to grind us into the dirt - is to want to pay them back in kind. However, my President, Barack Obama, is now telling me otherwise. He's asking me to pull my heart out of the freezer and let it start thawing.
So I'm stuck with old habits that are dying hard. This IS a new America. So new and unfamiliar, at least for me, that it's hard to recognize. I am not yet comfortable in it. My new President has invited me to put down the old mindset, unclench my fists, and reach out to old adversaries. I'm being invited to rise above the pain of the past eight (or more) years, and start fixing things, and help my poor battered country heal. And I'm going to have to get used to it. This, too, is a project that won't be completed overnight. This way forward won't be easy, either, at least for me. Yet I know I need to accept it, just as much as I need to get used to the idea that it's safe to come in out of the cold and embrace the man now in the Oval Office as MY President. He's talked for two years now about "Change We Can Believe In." And I'm realizing that a lot of that change is going to have to start within me.