Obama’s In, So No More Business As Usual

Well, he did it.

My brother lost the bet that he and I made several months back, wherein he all but swore on a Bible that there was no way that Barack Obama could beat John McCain in a general election.

I believe his quote was,

“A brotha… in these times? Against a war hero? Come on, now.

Honestly, I was convinced Obama would make a good president even before he finished consulting his exploratory committee, and almost two years ago, I said so in this space. (Though if I were to be honest, I’d have to give credit to Eric Zorn for saying so first.)

Two years later, he’s about to become president. As so many have said, his election signaled a momentous mile marker in the history of these United States of America, and for many reasons, most of which I need not enumerate.

However, I am concerned about the dark side of his imminent presidency.

No, not the Republicans-that-think-Obama-is-the-antichrist dark side. I’m not so much worried about his policies per se — though I do have some concerns, and I’ll surely have more as time goes on — as I am about his supporters.

Now here’s the thing… part of the reason why President-elect Obama won is because he was able to collect a broad constituency of supporters. People of color (however you choose to define that term), the educated, urban dwellers, and younger voters all turned out in record numbers for Obama. Black and White, straight and gay, in coastal cities and in so-called flyover states, many, many people chose to support his as their choice for president.

As a result, my generalizations about “Obama supporters” should not to be taken too broadly, as many of them will not fit sizable portions of his constituency, just as generalizations tend to fall flat when applied to any large group of people. There are always exceptions to the rule here.

On the other hand, if the shoe fits… you know the rest.

My biggest question for Obama supporters is this: what now?

If the biggest accomplishment in President-elect Obama’s campaign was successfully engaging people in the political process who had previously been relegated to the sidelines, then I fear the biggest letdown will be most of those people feeling satisfied, complacent, and ultimately returning to business as usual.

This is an understandable response, because right about now the emotional highs should be all but worn off. Even Chicagoans, who probably felt as much pride about Obama winning the presidency as they did about the Bears winning the Super Bowl, still have to confront the fact that they still live in Chicago. Just because their guy is about to take the highest office, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems in the here and now. Neighborhoods need help. Bills need to be paid.

The problem, though, with business as usual, is that it violates the spirit of all the promises that were made in the campaign. All the rhetoric of Obama-going-to-bridge-the-divides-and-usher-in-a-healing-dawn… well, if you were an Obama supporter and you meant it, then it’s time for you to do your part in living up to the promise. You can’t be all high-minded and idealist during a campaign, and then, now that your guy has been crowned, go back to doing things the way they’ve always been done.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about several things.

First, I’m talking about policy.

Those of you dyed-in-the-wool blue-state Dems should not expect the entire framework of policy advocacy coming from the executive branch to simply march to the left, because that’s not what Barack Obama promised. On several issues (none of which I will name because I don’t want to get too bogged down in minutia) he has been known to embrace certain tenets of conservative ideology — personal responsibility, for example.

Midway through Obama’s campaign, his policy wonks made several concessions here and there in order to maintain a broad constituency and ward off attacks of being the most liberal Senator in recent history. And even though it angered his vocal Democrat base … it worked. Obama was elected. So if he doesn’t back some of that talk up with pragmatic solutions rather than standard liberal dogma, the moderate, independant core of voters that sided with him will turn against him. And he and his staff are smart enough to know that. So those of you who expect the incoming Obama administration to be an avalanche of leftist initiatives, don’t hold your breath.

I’m not just talking about policy, though. I’m also talking about personal conduct, especially as it relates to the political process. Now I realize that some issues are hot-button issues, and no amount of high-minded speeches about unity will appease the rabid constituents on either side of the debate. (Gay marriage and Proposition 8, for example.)

But I hope that we can take some cues from our leaders and stop treating every issue like it’s “us against them.” The truth is, unless you’re talking about sports, most of the time it’s hard to figure out who represents “us” and who represents “them,” because people are different and different people respond to issues in different ways.

And since there is a clear Democratic majority in at least two of the three branches of our federal government, and since we can therefore expect some amount of public opinion and policy to gradually shift leftward, I hope Democrats will remember what it was like to be on the outside looking in, and be gracious enough to respect the opinions of those in the minority. After all, our president-elect made his case to America largely on his initial opposition to the war in Iraq, an unpopular stance at the time. There will surely be other urgent issues where many of our credentialed, experienced, qualified leaders will disagree. If Democrats simply resort to using their numbers to shout down the opposition, they’ll quickly relinquish the moral high ground that they worked so hard to gain. Because nothing screams “business as usual” like doing very the thing you’ve been accusing your opponents of doing.

Finally, it’s my sincere hope that admidst the throngs of inspired, dedicated Obama supporters, there will remain a remnant of folks who will continue to engage their government on state and city levels now that the hype has worn off.

Here in Portland where I reside, it’s a badge of honor for progressive types to complain about how terrible the Bush years have been for our country, which is one of the reasons why sarcastic, leftist bumper stickers sell so well here. Well guess what, folks? Our guy is going to become president now! How about we turn some of that energy into doing something better instead of simply complaining about it?

I was amused by so much celebrity support of Obama during the general election, because I knew supporting Obama was the hot, fashionable thing to do. But if more actors, NBA players, singers and artists of all flavors put a little less attention into being sexy and more attention into living lives of substance, then maybe our country would be better off. I would call some of them out by name like I did over the Tookie Williams thing, but there are just too many to mention, so I won’t.

Besides, celebrities can help bring attention and visibility to certain issues, but when it comes to doing the real work of healing America, the lion’s share of that burden falls on regular people, people like you, Whoever You Are. Policies can help, sure, but regulations can’t and won’t take the place of being respectful and choosing to engage in the areas where we have opportunity.

And when opportunity meets preparation, then boom … we’re in business.

Let’s just make sure it’s not business as usual.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ It Up with me.

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