What Hope And Change Really Mean

I’ve covered this before, no doubt.  I’ve never really spent much effort in hiding my support for Barack Obama, but now that Super Tuesday has officially come, I think it’s worth talking about the significance of “hope” and “change”.

With the cynicism that is embedded so deeply into our political construct, it’s not difficult to see how so many people can write these words off as empty platitudes, uplifting rhetoric bolstering what is otherwise a hollow campaign.  But the cynicism is wrong.  Yes, most politicians promise change, most politicians talk about hope, but there is reason to believe, reason to hope, that this time, it’s different.

We first have to understand where we are, and what is wrong with where we are.  We have to understand that we are still in the thrall of the old battles, not fallout, but actually fighting the ideological wars of past generations.  The Boomers, particularly, have let the rifts of the sixties and seventies become the focal point of this new millenium, but worse than those old disagreements is the methodology, the way they come to the table, the way they discuss ideas, and argue over disagreements.  It is a national debate of stasis, of brick walls and of enduring stalemate.

It is important to understand that in America today there really is no such thing as debate.  It is right and wrong, and the role of each side on any given issue to argue their points until they are red in the face.  They will not change minds, nor do they seem to apparently care.  Despite not making any progress whatsoever, they seem content in just being right while all about them the world crumbles.

We can change this.

I’ve watch the term “liberal” sneakily shift to “progressive” while substantively there has been hardly any change at all.  There’s still a laundry list of stances on issues, and if you don’t agree, there’s something terribly wrong with you.  I don’t disagree with disagreement upon principle, but there is something disturbing with how hardline some of these folks can be.  They will sacrifice progress for the sake of being progressive; any compromise on any issue is a de facto failure.  A selling out of our liberal or progressive values.  Thus we are faced with this strange paradox where progressives often seem uninterested in actually making progress, and are instead more concerned with the idea that their soldiers hold the line.

We can change this.

The same goes on the other side of the fence.  Conservatives, spoiled by the past few decades, have gotten greedy.  They call those of us on the left “criminal” and “evil”.  They demand their narrow agenda be thrust upon a broad populace and they demand it executed without capitulation.  But in so doing, as we see on this day, they are burying themselves, dividing themselves, and unquestioningly succumbing to the fate guaranteed by an alliance that is now turning its outward aggressions inward.

We can change this.

This is the nature of our debate.  There’s a middle ground, but you aren’t allowed to tread there for fear of being a sell out, a traitor, or a capitulator.  Your only option is to pick a side, dig in, and keep fighting until you’ve expelled your last breath.  Vietnam exists today.  Possibly in Iraq, but definitely in the political discourse of this country right here.  No one can win, and you don’t get points for being stubbornly and wrongheadedly rigid in your ideology.

Not to say ideology is itself a completely negative thing.  I’m a liberal, always have been, and I’m not ashamed of that fact.  But what is lacking today is the observance of two fundamental facts about human nature and the world we live in.  The first is that it is impossible for us to be right all the time.  We are wrong.  We are creatures prone to err, and our logic susceptible to fallibility.  Conservatives can be wrong.  Liberals can be wrong.  The second is that we share this country, our states, our cities, and our neighborhoods with people who don’t agree with us, but just because they disagree with us does not make them necessarily wrong or evil.

In fact, in this world, things so rarely can be categorized as right and wrong, and it would be foolish to try and impose such a structure.

But we can change this.

The concept of change, as hollow as it may seem to some, is exactly what is needed right now.  It is needed to dig us out of this rut of fifty-plus-one-politics where no one really wins.  It is needed to dig us out of this rut of political pandering to eke out the slimmest of majorities only to impose a mandate of the few on the many.

But we can change this.

In fact we must change this.  We face many challenges at home and abroad, and those challenges can only be forcibly met with a strong concensus, by finding a way to harness all of the differing ideas and ideologies, and focusing the power and passion of all those hearts and all those minds in a single direction, and as impossible as it may seem, it can be done.

We can change.  We can reframe the questions.  We can take abortion and stop asking is it right or wrong and start asking how can we responsibly reduce it without infringing upon the rights of women.  We can look at our foreign policy and quit arguing the virtues of being a hawk or a dove and start asking ourselves how can we responsibly proceed together to make the world a better and safer place.

We can have the big table, and we can invite everyone to it; those with whom we agree, and those with whom we disagree.  It’s significant and important for as time has shown, when any one ideology is given too much free reign it eventually travels down the wrong path.  We have a name for it.  It’s called extremism and no one people are exempt from its trappings and its evils, but as a nation of differing ideas, differing hopes, differing dreams, and differing mechanisms of reason, we can create a strong consensus, a forward consensus, a consensus that takes into account the better angels of all sides and casts away their demons.

We can change.

We can change the landscape of our national debate such that it isn’t a pro wrestling spectacle and turn it back into what it was meant to be from the beginning; an actual debate.  Instead of conservatives and Republicans being the enemy, we can make them our strongest allies, their sensibilities strengthening our own.  It’s possible, it can be done.

And this is the kind of change that Barack Obama represents.  It is a change that is at once idealistic in its hope for unity, but pragmatic in the understanding that we are at our strongest when we compliment and suppliment each other, that those who oppose us can make us better, can help us succeed where we would alone fail.

This is the core of the change.  The big table.  And maybe, just maybe, we all as Americans may be more satisfied, not necessarily because we got our way, but also because when we didn’t get our way, at least we were listened to.

This is what all of us who have thrown our support behind Obama hope for, and in the upswell of all this momentum, for the first time in a long time it feels as though we can actually do this.

Yes, we can.

3 Responses to “What Hope And Change Really Mean”

  1. eRobin says:

    Beautiful post. I agree that we can change everything you wrote about. Getting it done will depend more on us working very very hard and being willing to hold whoever is president to account more than it will on who is president. That said, I am supporting Obama b/c I think he has a better chance of getting by McCain than HRC does.

    Progressives, liberals -whatever – dropped the ball when Clinton got elected and that was a disaster for us all. If we do the same thing next year, the results will be even worse. If I had one wish it would be for everyone who cares about any of this to pick an issue and get active on it on the ground. I think that would help a lot and mean more than which Dem is in the White House.

  2. eRobin says:

    I forgot:

    those who oppose us can make us better, can help us succeed where we would alone fail.

    It’s probably worth noting though that some of those who oppose us don’t want to increase funding for food stamps and UI benefits in the stim pack even though everyone knows and accepts that doing is the best way to boost a sluggish economy. Where exactly would those people sit at the big table?

  3. Alx says:

    There are certain fundamental and philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives (of which I am one). As was mentioned in the above post, most conservatives are against increased funding for food stamps and UI benefits because we don’t believe the fed gov should be involved in that area at all, let alone increasing it. (At the very least, we believe funding like that should be decided at the state level. I also take issue with the statement that increase these things is the “best way to boost an economy,” but I digress). So, where to we sit at the table? Obviously, there are certain differences in opinion that we have, which is fine. But to say that we can all come together and accomplish anything we want to is easier said than done, especially if one side wants to increase the scope and size of the fed gov, and the other side wants to limit it as much as possible. Something has to give…

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