If you turned on the TV, flipped open a newspaper, or looked our your window to see what looked a little bit like an orgy (only with less sex and more yelling) in the streets, you may have heard that Barack Obama is now President of the United States. And you know what...it is kind of a big deal. Regular readers of this blog, or anyone with peripheral vision that can see yesterday's blog on the right entitled "Good Morning", will know that I am quite happy and excited about the election results.
What we witnessed yesterday was historic and people have every right to be satisfied with themselves, their country and their new leader. But the English language enthusiast in me would like to point something out. There is a stark difference between the words "satisfaction" and "complacency."
satisfaction (n)- the act of satisfying; fullfillment; gratification.
complacency (n)- a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some poential danger, defect, or the like.
America has every right to pat itself on the back. It elected a fresh young candidate, who ran a nearly flawless campaign by a huge margin. But America by no means should think its job is over. We tend to romanticize the job of presidency to an extreme degree. I suppose one could say that the President is the leader of the country but this is only through process of elimination. The legislative branch is presided over by 535 men and women and the judicial system has 9 supreme justices to go along with hundreds of smaller courts and a whole network of lawyers. The office of the Presidency is the only branch of government in which one man is "king".
I am not trying to trivialize the job of President (many previous Presidents have done that well enough already), I am merely urging people to curb their complacency. Barack Obama's messages of change and bipartisanship are strong ones and the general consensus seems to be that he will be a satisfactory President. But a President is all he is; the only people who can actually change America are the citizens themselves.
Voting is only part of one's civic duties. Every citizen in America of legal age is a decision-maker. Every American is a legislator, a judge, an activist and a leader. And for as long as I can remember (keep in mind I am only 18 and semiconscious of politics and American civics since around age 10-12), Americans have been failing miserably at their jobs. Presidents are by and large the ones who steal the glory or are given blame, but American citizens are the ones who make the country go 'round.
Can you imagine what the country would look like right now if Americans gave as much of a damn about their country as they did who is going to be the pretty face "running it"?
Maybe we would not be in Iraq. If Americans had taken the time to let their ire settle down a little bit, curbed their blind patriotism for a second and sat down to think: maybe they would have come up with a different solution. Don't get me wrong: I know very well that this was President Bush's war; he and his staff planned it, organized it and executed it....but they couldn't start it. At the time of invasion, 64% of Americans believed that military action against Iraq was the right thing to do. They didn't bother to take a second and wonder: "Hmm, if Osama bin Laden organized the 9/11 attacks and a couple-dozen Saudi Arabians carried it out and we have not a shred of evidence of an Al-Quaeda and Iraq connection nor a sniff of Weapons of Mass Destruction, then why are we invading Iraq?" But 64% of the population didn't really care, that is 64% who didn't put up a fight, didn't write to their Representative and didn't really care about anything one way or another; they just wanted blood. Americans happily gave a President a decision that should have been their own because "Hey, we just voted a year ago! We already made our decision, it is up to that 'W' guy now!"
Maybe New Orleans would have bounced back faster. If Americans had taken some time off from yelling at the federal government, tearing FEMA to shreds and asserting that George Bush doesn't care about black people, to maybe just head down to Dixie and help some folks out, or even sent a few bucks down there, maybe things would have gone smoother (calm down, Kanye, I know you did a lot to help). But nope, that is the President's job. We did our part, we elected the guy and if he can't stop a hurricane from hovering over American soil then we will just have to vote someone else in. Nevermind the fact, that the local New Orleans government repeatedly ignored the disintegrating levees.
Maybe the economy wouldn't be in awful shape. It just seems like common sense to me that you spend money when you do have it, and don't spend it when you don't have it. But that doesn't quite work for Americans. We are all about flash. Hell, if I want that 8 bedroom house, I am getting that 8 bedroom house...graveyard shift at Pizza Hut be damned! So when the housing market collapses and takes the whole economy along with it, Americans did what they are best at: blamed the President. It is Bush's and his stupid tax cuts' fault! It is Clinton and commie-sharing bonanza's fault! It is Reagan and his small government bullshit's fault! There was and is a lot of blame flying around and none of it was from any American citizen stepping to the plate and simply saying "my bad". No, because when you lose your money, it is the President's fault (a fact satirized brilliantly on last night's South Park). You elected him, and that is all you had to do, but he clearly failed his end of the bargain.
So that brings us to Barack Obama. Barack Obama is now our President and he did it by uniting and motivating the electorate better than any politician I have ever seen. In a couple of months, he will be sitting in that big cushy chair in the oval office, ready to lead and ready to make tough decisions. But he isn't the only one who is responsible for the direction of this country and don't you dare let him be, America. It is "tabula rasa" time, so take some responsibility for the direction of your nation and be proud of what you want it to be.
We did just elect one man to lead us. But that doesn't meant that all 305,587,000 of us can now just go to sleep for four years and expect that one man to make it all better with a magic wand. True change takes effort, cooperation, and more than one man to make it happen.
And last time I checked: 305,587,000 is a little more than 1.