My fellow Americans

NOTE: I am not interested in getting into arguments about political issues on this blog. Anyone posting hateful comments about our new president, our current president, any other political figure, or any of the people who supported any of these figures will be banished to the spam filter. Don’t like it? Go here to sign up for your own blog.

Earlier this week, Americans went to the polls to voice their support for the man they thought most likely to effect positive change in this country. After a hard-fought campaign on both sides, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — a dynamic public speaker and a Paul Simon protege — was elected the 44th President of the United States of America.

I voted for Obama. My reasons were many, but in the end, they came down to one: I like the way I feel when I hear Obama speak.

I don’t mean that he tells me what I want to hear so I can feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I mean that he motivates me to get off my duff and go do something for my country.

I have always agreed with Ross Perot’s assertion that the presidency is basically the world’s greatest bully pulpit — a position from which one individual has the ability to influence millions of other individuals to effect positive change.

Bill Clinton understood that. George H.W. Bush understood that. Remember his inaugural address? “I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good….” (I’m still trying to figure out how, in 20 years, we got from there to here. I suspect political science professors will be studying that for a long time.)

Ronald Reagan understood. I’m too young to remember Jimmy Carter’s words as president, but based on his work with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations in the years since he left the White House, I think there’s little doubt that he understood, too.

For a moment, just after Sept. 11, 2001, I had the feeling that George W. Bush understood. He said some things that gave me hope. He reassured me that despite the uncertainties in the economy following the terrorist attacks, the best thing I could do for my country would be to go forward with the purchase of a home Ron and I had found and liked. I appreciated that, and we responded by closing on the house.

Somewhere along the way, however, the wheels fell off, and the president stopped inspiring me. I think I was not alone. And I think that may have something to do with why the country is not in as good a shape now as it was then.

Others may disagree, but I have always believed that — to quote George Orwell — “if there was hope, it lay in the proles.”

For me, Perot’s “bully pulpit” definition of the presidency is the most important aspect of that office. I’ve never counted on my government to get anything right. I’m a little too cynical to believe that politicians have my best interests at heart or that they’re going to do right by me if I’ll just get out of the way and let them. If government were capable of solving the world’s problems, communism would work. It doesn’t, because government isn’t.

The grassroots, on the other hand, has the power to change the world. Don’t believe me? Contrast the Southern Baptists’ response to Hurricane Katrina with FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

I’m not naive enough to rely on my president to solve my problems. But I like for him to give me my marching orders. I want him to tell me what needs to be done. I want him to tell me what I personally can do. And I want him to believe I can do it.

That may be a simple, small thing, but it’s in millions of simple, small things that we find our nation’s real power and its real identity.

Here’s hoping that President Obama can inspire all of us to do the simple, small things that will make a big difference in the coming years.


4 thoughts on “My fellow Americans”

  1. I don’t think people realize, ultimately, how little Presidents can actually effect, from a political standpoint, contrasted with how much they get blamed for. Yes, they can propose an agenda, but there’s only so much they can do to enforce it or make it a reality. We did a simulation in college in a class on the Presidency and I (in a moment of total idiocy) volunteered to take the lead role. It didn’t take long before I realized why no one else wanted it.

    And I absolutely agree that the best things that help other people happen away from the government. While I understand that government can catch people who fall between the cracks of other programs, my problem with too much government is that a lot of people use that as an excuse not to get involved. The best charity (in the strictly Biblical sense of “love”) happens with people who see the need up close, see the people as people, not in the light of a bureaucracy and rules.

    I wanted to recommend, if you don’t mind, submitting for your consideration donating to the Heifer Project or Samaritan’s Purse or Gospel for Asia or World Vision, all of whom have “real world” catalogs to choose from. You can give a set of chickens, or a pair of rabbits, or, if you’re REALLY feeling generous, a water buffalo! They also let you sponsor a girl for school for a year, or give a woman a sewing machine, etc. It’s a great way to give more than “just money” in a way that can really help (along the lines of “teach a man to fish …”).


  2. For Christmas in 2005, we gave away small bags containing a green, purple, and gold Christmas ornament, a few Mardi Gras beads, and a note explaining that this was all the recipient would be getting from us that year, as all but about $25 of our Christmas budget was being sent to NOLA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was by far the best Christmas we’d had in years and represented something I’d wanted to do for a long time but hadn’t been able to pull off because of resistance from a few people who were committed to existing traditions.

    We’ve done donations to Heifer, Habitat for Humanity, and a couple of other organizations every year since then. Thus far, nobody’s complained about receiving a small jar of honey and a note explaining that I spent his or her Christmas money on a beehive for an African village or whatever. I expect that tradition will continue indefinitely.

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