“We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” – President Barack Obama
2013 will be a year of forced, though not unwelcome, change for me. It has already started off with me accepting there is much I can’t control (okay, I’m pretending I’m accepting it – I don’t give up THAT easily!). However, as President Obama begins his second term, I can honestly say that I face whatever comes with a sense of calm.
Historically, the office of the president has minimal effect on our daily lives. He can set the big vision, but it rests upon our representatives on the local and state levels, as well as the Congress to make the changes that influence this thing called life. This changed for me with President Obama.
I believe one of President Obama’s most enduring legacies will be his engagement of the average person (President Bill Clinton obviously laid the ground work for this.). Since he first stepped onto the national stage, his enthusiasm for what he believes is possible for our country has woken up the most apathetic amongst us. He has not only fired up those who share his vision, but those who resist it, exposing the extremes of the spectrum to all that are willing to see. As a passionate American who loves her country, I’ve found this both gratifying and terrifying.
I’ve probably been more aware of what has bubbled below the surface of our collective consciousness for longer than many have been aware of Barack Obama. This is partly due to how I grew up and largely due to my genuine interest and fascination of what makes the world go round (not to mention that I’m a certifiable information junkie). I was sad, though not surprised, at George W. Bush’s election in 2000. By 2001, I had signed up for the first time to help with political campaigns and attended conventions. I had become aware of the dangerous corporate and fanatically religious elements in our country and felt I had to do something to change course. Dubya lacked vision, but I knew he was enabling the worst among us to gain greater power and allowing Congress to enact policies that were putting our country on a dangerous course. I cried the night of his reelection. It would take the rest of the country another two years to see what I did. I know, I know–I sound like those who oppose Barack Obama. The difference is…I was proven right.
I voted for Obama the first time for several reasons: I liked his message; I believed in his vision; I trusted his ability. Most of all, I felt he represented the complete antithesis of everything our country had become over the previous eight years and felt that electing him president would say to the world that we, as Americans, were willing to make the bold choice to go in a dramatically different direction.
As he begins his second term, I admit I’m less than happy with some of his first term actions. I’m more than frustrated at his continuation…and in some instances, expansion…of the previous administration’s military policies. These decisions, I’m sure, are based in part on information that we just don’t need to know (a deference I give to all presidents, even if I didn’t vote for them). However, I was hoping he would be the one that would make our country less militaristic. Perhaps we lost that chance with President Jimmy Carter. Nonetheless, accepting the inevitable reduction of expectations when reality meets vision, and understanding the unprecedented opposition and world events he has faced, President Obama had a very successful first term. We have gotten lost in the noise of rhetoric and spectacle, and have spent little time focusing on the positive.
It’s the positive moments that have changed the daily lives of those furthest from Washington, D.C., including mine. While far from perfect, his fight for the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) will get more Americans closer to having affordable health insurance. I have been at the mercy of the individual insurance market for most of my adult life. It’s a relief to finally have someone in a position of power that understands we need assistance on this front. As state politicians are taking out their frustration at losing power to a more progressive vision by trying to wrestle control of women’s bodies from them, President Obama has made it standard practice that every policy of this administration considers the effect on women and girls.
I’m comforted by the fact that with the vacancies anticipated, we will have a Supreme Court that will understand and focus on the rights of the individuals, as opposed to the corporations. Our legal system is currently in jeopardy due to unfilled vacancies for judges. The greater democratic majority in the Senate can now make progress on the backlog, with appointments from a president that will look at candidates from a much more varied background than his predecessors. With his reelection, we now have the opportunity to change the national discussion and focus on that which really matters.
He still has his detractors, of course, and a recalcitrant House majority that seems unable to deal with the new reality. But he now has the experience of four years of a challenging presidency, the attention of an enthusiastic base and freedom from reelection politics. In his second inauguration speech, President Obama acknowledged that there is still much to be done, and it all won’t get done now. Yet, that sense of calm washes over me because I know we have a president at the helm who knows what needs to be done and who the focus should be:
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
As I focus on my future, I find strength in knowing that, finally, my future – and yours, is also the focus of our president.