Great Expectations

This is music to my ears. Please, Maude, let it be so:
Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

...Obama himself has signaled, for example, that he intends to reverse Bush's controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases, such as Parkinson's.

...The new president is also expected to lift a so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he rescinded the Reagan-era regulation, known as the Mexico City policy, but Bush reimposed it.

"We have been communicating with his transition staff" almost daily, Richards said. "We expect to see a real change."
There's way more, including a reported plan to make some quick hits on Bush's environmental fiats. This similar New York Times article suggests that "a major expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program" (SCHIP) might be quickly forthcoming, too (which I am very pleased to see, given that he missed the last reauthorization vote, to my profound disappointment).

All of this sounds very good.

As I've said before, democracy at its best is unlimited optimism shot through with a cold streak of cynicism—and I can't remember a time where I more pointedly felt that balance working itself in seemingly every molecule of which I am composed. I have endless hopefulness that Obama will be great, will do great things for this country (and tangentially for everyone who is affected by this country and its policies and its decisions). And I will expect that greatness, because he needs a progressive base with expectations to which he must answer. And if he disappoints, it will not crush me, because my cynicism protects me; I will criticize him and demand more, as I always have.

But now is the time for great expectations.

Of him and of ourselves.

Wednesday, the day after the election, the Space Cowpokes, Iain, and I were in Chicago all day, and something incredible had happened. (The same thing was happening in New York, too, as noted by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, and I've gotten emails from people saying they found the same thing.) It was, like, Crazyhappyland. Everyone was laughing and smiling and being extra nice—spontaneous conversations about music, art, food, life, the election with strangers in elevators, in restaurants, in cabs, on the sidewalk. It was like every single person in Chicago had been told they had 100 years to live. Black, white, gay, straight, woman, man, everybody. People were happy and inspired and excited. A cloud had lifted. In one of the most politically cynical cities in the world, where the people know better than most that policians are fallible beings who often fail to deliver and fuck up in myriad ways, there was still a tangible, beautiful sense of the possible. The entire city was enveloped in great expectations.

Right now, let's believe we can do this.

And because, as I've said no fewer than a nonillion times now, this election is not just about Barack Obama, and his presidency will not be just about Barack Obama, but about us all, there's just this huge chance for something big in that optimism blanketing Chicago on Wednesday.

You see, the solutions to shit like the institutionalized homophobia that fueled Prop 8, or institutionalized misogyny that plagued this election, or any of the other crushing bigotries that poison our culture and its people, don't lie exclusively in Barack Obama the person, nor Obama the president, nor the Obama administration, nor a Democratic Congress—even though all those things have the potential to make big changes in the right (or left, ahem) direction. The solutions are in us, are in our great expectations and our determination to see them realized.

The best option for the people who populate this blog at this point is to provide as much progressive support to Obama, to be his base, so that he has the clear and public mandate to pursue a progressive (and necessarily feminist) agenda. That does not mean giving him a pass or holding back criticism. In fact, it means putting on as much public pressure as possible and making public criticism when he falls short, because blind and blanket fealty doesn't get us anything.

Neither does unadultered despair and pessimism. Teaspoons, after all, are fueled by the belief that people can change.

And this blog is not about reserving the right to say "I told you so" when people fuck up, as they inevitably do. This blog is about teaspoons.

Shakesville's charter dictates that no one is expected to be perfect; everyone is expected to be willing to self-examine and learn. I'd like us to extend the same generosity to our new president. I'd like us to grant him the benefit of our willingness to view him as complex and flawed, but capable of learning, just as we do each other, rather than regarding every disappointment as evidence of his being not worth our time and energy. I'd like us to give him the support to succeed, with the fragile hope that he'll accept it and make good use of it.

We must do it because we are generous, and because we are selfish—no one else will make our demands for us.

We must do it because we are optimistic, and because we are cynical—no one else can provide the clarion call that we can.

It is a risky business indeed to have high hopes for a president. The temptation to expect nothing, in the hopes of being pleasantly surprised, is very enticing, precisely because nothing is so frequently all that we get. But great presidents are forged in part in the fiery bellies of the people who demand greatness of them. There was a need and a desire for Lincoln's greatness. There was a need and a desire for FDR's greatness. Circumstances demanded it—and so did the people, despite no guarantee that greatness would be forthcoming.

Of course, without the people's belief in that greatness being possible, it really might not have been.

We must hold our teaspoons firmly, with generosity and selfishness, and with optimism and cynicism.

And we must have great expectations.

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