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ONE MAN, EVEN THE PRESIDENT, CAN’T DO ANYTHING BY HIMSELF

November 12, 2008

by Dennis Trainor, Jr

yesThe election of Barack Obama is a moment of undeniable power and significance. A nation built on the backs of slaves, a nation that- two generations ago, forced African Americans to use separate water fountains- not only elected an African American to the highest office in the land, but we have done so with the zealous fanfare that calls to mind the adulation lavished on the Beatles and the Kennedys.

I was in the streets of Washington DC on election night soaking in the atmosphere and talking to people. One woman, an African American in her 30’s, told me that she had never felt like she belonged. In her entire life she said, she had always felt like an outsider. “Until right now.”  I soaked that in as much as I could. Then she got into her 2008 Mercedes Benz, gave me a “god bless” and a pulled into the traffic on 14th street, joining the parade of cars with beeping horns and rhapsodic torso’s thrusting out of windows and sunroofs and screaming into the night.

Clearly these people were not wearing their seat belts. Ralph Nader would be horrified.

A few minutes later I spoke with another African American – a homeless man who was waiting for me as I parked my car in the street.  Willie, of course, was just after asking me for some money, but wanted a little conversation first. He was already setting the bar low for Obama: “One man, even the president, can’t do anything by himself”, he said. Even so, the smile on Willie’s face and the spring in his step nearly brought me to tears.

I said that one man, if he is the president, can – and has- take us to war.

But Willie was more concerned about domestic issues. “Poverty is not going anywhere, it is just gonna get worse.” Yes, he was obviously angling for some cash- and I gave him some. I almost made a joke about wealth redistribution as I took out what I thought was 3 bucks from my pocket, but (doh!) turned out to be a single wrapped around two twenty dollar bills. So Willie got $41 bucks from me.

Several forces collided in this election. A nation horrified into paralysis and embarrassment by the Bush administration, a country desperate- and ready- to wrestle the monkey of white guilt off of its back and smooth the scars of slavery and racism meet head on with the undeniably transformational figure of Barrack Obama. His ability as an orator to inspire hope is a rare gift. We could, and have many times in the past, settled for much less in a president.

But we also live in a time where marketing holds more sway over our lives than most of us will readily admit. For instance, and speaking of water fountains- in a land where the tap water would be the envy of most people in the world, we willingly pay more for a gallon of bottled water than we do for a gallon of gas. Marketing. Show business.

The presidential election was decided in this context, and Obama’s campaign will go down in history as a masterstroke of marketing. Show biz. In selling us change, the Obama campaign (with the cooperation of most major media outlets) was successful in getting most of us to suspend our critical thinking. Note that Chris Matthews of Hardball said on election night that it was his job to make sure the Obama presidency goes smoothly. A journalist with a news desk granted a major mouthpiece by MSNBC was comfortable enough to actually say this.

Now that we have bought the product of an Obama nation, we will spend the coming months opening the pretty package.  What will be inside?

In an ideal world, the American citizens, living as we do in a representative democracy, will (at least in part) get to fill up that package. By holding our elected officials accountable, particularly those members of congress who hold just as much constitutional power as the president, we can create the future.

Am I naïve enough to think that we live in an ideal world? My president elect is asking me to dream big. In Grant Park on election night Obama presented himself as proof that a government of the people by the people and for the people has not perished from the earth.

Now that Obama is elected, it is time for those of you who have been silent- those of you who want a shift away from the imperial, unilateral, bush doctrine foreign policy; those of you who want a single payer health care system, among many other things, to wake up. Making demands, actively shaping the change that Obama promises, that is the role that citizens play in this little pageant. Failure to play that role, to sit back uncritically and wait and see what a Washington DC controlled by the Democrats in the executive and legislative branch will do, cedes power to those who will not wait. Namely it cedes power to corporate interests. For all of your 5 and 10 dollar campaign donations it was Wall street that funded the Obama machine- and they will not will not sit passively back to “wait and see.”

Inauguration day is too late to mobilize.  The 1/20/09 bumper stickers have lulled us into a state of passivity worthy of sheep, not the energized and active electorate required to uphold our end of the promise of a government of for and by the people.

Contact your elected officials. Join congressional watchdog groups like NOVEMBER5.ORG.  Work with the Democratic majority. Making demands of the incoming administration and congress is not the same as making attacks.

“One man, even the president, can’t do anything by himself”, Willie said.

Well said, Willie. A sentiment worth much more than the $41 I paid for it.

Dennis Trainor, Jr is the writer & performer of “The Hermit With Davis Fleetwood”

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