Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Hope and Change, Take Two

Almost four years ago today, I proudly cast my ballot for Barack Obama. Like many others I knew, the then Senator from Illinois appeared to be exactly what we had dreamed would someday arrive. And, for the first time in my life, I actively volunteered to help a Presidential candidate. I was not compensated for my time, but never asked to be. I was so thrilled to be a part that I didn't mind.

I canvassed neighborhoods, knocking on door after door. It's tough work. Soliciting the public for votes puts you on your feet in the elements for hours at a time. I worked a rope line at a speech Obama gave at the Atlanta Convention Center. At least there you get to be indoors, but it feels a bit like a combination of herding cattle and directing traffic.

Today, I am headed out the door for the polls the instant I finish this post. My dreams are much more realistic this time around. I was highly critical at the time of people who expected revolutionary changes in American life from one man. Even so, I myself entertained the Obama glow for a while, though it faded slowly but surely when economic problems persisted and needed reforms never came to pass. We were all giddy for three months. Now we're weary.

The candidate I met in person nearly four and a half years ago was in a bad mood. In all fairness, there could have been any number of reasons for this. I sought to shake his hand individually, rather than packed together as part of the group to whom I had been assigned. Obama coldly ignored my request and my outstretched hand. Motioning with his eyes, he directed me to cram into the middle of others. I caught the top of his very large hand and nothing more. Shortly after that he moved on down the line.

Everyone's entitled to a bad day every now and again. But it did provide a jarring disconnect. Minutes before, I'd been awed by Obama's soaring oratory. The person I viewed now was entirely human and even a little rude. His curt behavior continued towards his handlers, while he reached the back of the adjacent room. They methodically guided him across the length of the hall as he complained about one thing or the other.

I suppose he might be forgiven to be so crabby. His campaign was just beginning to gain traction, and I believe that then he was still trailing substantially in the polls to Hillary Clinton. The Obama we've gotten to know over the past four years is still very much an enigma. I wonder if, should be be re-elected, that we will know the President beyond his eloquence and apparent political centrism.

A part of me believes that I ought never cast a vote again for a Presidential candidate without he or she first having substantial experience in Washington, DC. Electing Hillary Clinton might, in hindsight, have been a better decision. But this is merely a hypothetical, and hypothetical scenarios have limitations.

Of course, now that past really doesn't matter, except for the recent past of economic suffering and general uncertainty. I once set my sights high, and now I just hope Obama does as little harm as possible. True political leaders are few and far between now, on both sides of the aisle. I don't expect a savior to rescue us from ourselves, but our health as a country will be determined by the success or failure of  his policies.

Obama was the anti-Bush and that's what we wanted then. Now, we're not sure what we need or what will succeed.

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