Post-Election Thoughts: How Can We Change America?

It has been almost a full week since the presidential election, and many Americans, along with the media, are still digesting what was an historic, sometimes bitter, sometimes polarizing, and always interesting campaign from both sides.  There has been much discussion over the past week about what this election will mean for the future of America, and the debate will no doubt continue all the way until the next election cycle begins and beyond.  Such is the state of politics today.

While the pundits ramble on and Joe Six Pack and Jane Diploma argue in bars, workplaces, and at dinner tables across the country, what concerns me most is whether or not the American public will be able to pull together and work to make the changes that this country is so obviously hungry for.  Overwhelmingly, voters in this latest election have voiced a powerful rejection of the status quo, characterized by the last eight years of the Bush administration and, up until two years ago, a solid Congressional majority held by the Republican party.  Notice that I said that this vote was more a rebuke of the current administration rather than a wholesale approval of the incoming one under President-elect Barack Obama.  I strongly feel that, while Obama carried a more than comfortable majority of this country’s electoral votes, many Americans across the country were more expressing their disapproval for the Republican control of the last eight years than giving Obama a “mandate” to do whatever he likes.  To put it plainly, a lot of people were voting against the policies of the old guy more than voting for the new guy.

I hold strong hopes that Obama and other politicians will realize this fact and govern accordingly when they take power.  Obama has stated in several speeches, including his beautiful and inspiring acceptance speech, that we will all have to work together to change things in this country, implying that we are all Americans first, before any political party.  John McCain expressed similar thoughts in his gracious concession speech, stating that he is looking forward to working with Obama to help change this country.  Even Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic figurehead of partisanship in the eyes of many, was quoted today as saying that Obama needs to govern “from the middle” in order to be an effective leader.  It is my hope that Obama will live up to his promises and work with all sides, and it is my equal hope that his opposition will reach out and accept compromise for the good of the country in front of their partisan loyalties.  This is no small task, but it is necessary if we are to see any change in the way America is governed.

What I have stated above is nothing new, as these ideas have been tossed about for centuries with little actual result other than the same old partisan bickering and gridlock for which American government has become notorious.  I believe that we as citizens of this country need to be the ones to take the first steps in order to show those that represent us how it’s done.  If America truly wants things to change, we need to first make changes in how we interact with each other in our everyday lives.  We need to let go of the past and focus on the future.  Let’s forget about what Bill Clinton did in the Oval Office, let’s let go of Bush’s bungled “Mission Accomplished” photo op.  What we as a nation should concern ourselves with now is letting go of the things that divided us in the past and focus instead on how we are going to work across any lines that divide us to improve our country and reclaim our place as the shining light of freedom and opportunity throughout the world.

There are some people on both the radical left and far right that will never be changed.  The Limbaughs, Hannitys, and O’Reillys will continue to espouse their partisan criticisms of anything that the Democrats do, and the Air America crowd and PETA members will continue to invoke the name of George W. Bush for years to come when the Republicans try to make their voices heard.  However, those of us that reside much more closely to the middle are the ones who are being overlooked.  A vast majority of Americans do not identify with the extremes of either side of the aisle, and yet we are continually presented with candidates that represent those small but intensely vocal minorities.  Such is often the case in politics: the moderates are drowned out by the kicking, screaming, and gnashing extremists.  What we need to do as moderates is learn to make our voices heard.  Even though we have given the Democratic party a healthy majority in both houses of Congress as well as control of the Executive branch, we must still be willing to take the Democrats to task when they are not representing the true will of the people.  We must allow the Republicans to voice their dissent and work with them to reach successful compromises that represent the best for all citizens of the nation.  President Obama will need to work from the middle, just as Clinton did for much of his administration, a fact that many forget.  Finally, we must realize that, Democrat or Republican, this congress and this president now represent us all, and the only way anything will get done is if we set aside our differences and work together to fix the mess in which we currently find ourselves.

As we all know, one major reason that this election was so historic was because it marked the first time an African American has been elected to the office of president.  This is a huge moment in race relations in a country that has experienced bitter turmoil throughout its history.  For the last week, we have seen daily reports about the mobilization of the black vote, interviews with civil rights leaders past and present, and debates about how America will adjust to being represented on the world stage by a black man.  We’ve also witnessed unprecedented celebration and praise heaped upon the American people for taking the huge step of electing a minority to the presidency.  It has been an amazing thing to watch, one which I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime, and I’m proud of what we have shown the world and done as a country.  We have restored and solidified America’s reputation as the country where anything is possible.  The next step is to stop talking about it.

Racism is still alive in this country, and it is foolish to assume that the election of an African American president will magically end it all.  However, we need to begin to erase the question of race from our consciousness.  The media needs to stop referring to Obama as “the first African American president” and instead refer to him as just “the president.”  I absolutely do not wish to downplay this exciting moment in history, but it’s time to take the next step in healing the wounds that racism has caused to this country.  If the media and we as Americans continue to focus on the race of our president, then we are propagating the idea of race as a division between us.  Let’s stop talking about this election in terms of race.  We have shown that this country is ready for a change in the way we view our citizens, now let’s make that change.  Let’s no longer be Anglo-Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, or Asian Americans.  Let’s just be Americans.

It’s time for us to change the way that we interact with each other.  I was reading a commentary on cnn.com the other day written by Ruben Navarette.  Mr. Navarette has been a vocal opponent of the Obama candidacy for the majority of the election cycle.  However, he wrote a piece the other day that expressed congratulations to the new president-elect and how Barack Obama’s victory is good for America.  Some readers of cnn.com immediately began attacking Mr. Navarette as a “Johnny Come Lately” and accusing him of “jumping on the bandwagon.”  Stop that.  How can we come together if one side extends a branch of peace while the other spits on it in reply?  On the other side, I also saw commenters on foxnews.com making racial jokes about Obama at the bottom of an article about Sarah Palin.  Stop that.  There’s no room left for that kind of bigotry in the America of the future.

I don’t want to hear anything more about either side “stealing elections.”  I don’t want to hear about “socialism” invading our country.  Please don’t invoke the name of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton to condemn those that you voted against.  I don’t want to hear Obama referred to as a “terrorist” or a “Muslim.”  I don’t want to hear Sarah Palin called “stupid” or “airhead” or “Caribou Barbie.”  I don’t want to hear conservatives referred to as “fundies” or “rednecks” or “Bible beaters.”  I don’t want to hear liberals referred to as “pinkos” or “communists” or “libtards.”  Please refrain from spreading hateful jokes and lies under the anonymity of the internet.  Please do not refer to anyone with views that differ from yours as “unpatriotic” or “un-American.”  Please don’t refer to an abstract way of life as the “real America.”  All America is the real America. 

Put away your anger, fear, and resentment and make a positive contribution to your nation’s future.  We have spent far too long as a nation divided, and we won’t be able to stand much longer if we continue in that direction.  Let’s come together and make this nation and this world a better place to live for everyone.  I’m ready for a new level of political discourse in this country.  I’m ready to raise the bar.  Are you, America?

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