Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New

People love to poke fun at George W. Bush. Comics, cartoonists, and commentators have made fun of him regularly over the past eight years. We’ve seen plenty of footage of the President saying and doing objectively stupid things, and we got so used to this as the norm that we started to pay less attention to his embarrassing blunders as time went on. But in the midst of having such an ineloquent, mistake-prone President, we’ve become so jaded that perhaps we have begun to forget the extremely serious predicament into which he has led us up until today, the last day of his Presidency.

George W. Bush’s tenure was defined by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After that fateful and frightful moment in our history, we banded together. We proudly waved American flags, opened our hearts and our wallets to victims’ families, and put all our faith in our elected leader to help mend the world and make sure such a catastrophe would never recur. At that point, Americans were ready to heed the call of service, of patriotism, and of community, and we were ready to go in whatever direction the President wanted to take us in.

But the President led us astray. He should have used the “rally around the flag” effect to enact sweeping changes and help usher in a new era—by raising taxes, with what would have surely been little fuss, in order to help wean us off foreign energy sources that were strengthening terrorist-harboring countries, and move us toward a new, independent energy economy. He should have exploited people’s willingness to serve and sacrifice by asking us to consume less energy, to help our neighbors, and to serve our communities.

Instead, he told Americans to “go shopping.” He hindered our progress toward energy independence by underfunding renewable energy investment and research. He led us into a war that no sound intelligence indicated was a relevant front to combating terrorism. He led us toward more foreign oil resources instead of away from them. He neglected an opportunity where nearly all the countries of the world were behind us, ready to help us however they could, and instead violated the trust of some of our greatest allies and the international community at large, unilaterally launching our country into a deadly, ill-advised, and protracted war and ultimately sending an already unstable region into further havoc.

I often wonder what the world would be like right now if Al Gore had won the 2000 election. The only thing I can say with certainty is that it would be a much, much different world. Eight years after Bush’s first inauguration, we find ourselves in an economic recession, with a little-regulated financial system that has spiraled out of control. We find ourselves with our power and influence around the world at perhaps its lowest level since World War I, as few countries still look to us as a moral exemplar. We find ourselves contributing more than ever to dangerous global climate change and more dependent than ever on foreign oil.

Today, we have witnessed history with the inauguration of our first African American President. But we are handing our new President a country that is battered and bleeding. The idea of “change” is not just a campaign slogan. It’s something that we desperately need, and have desperately needed for the last eight years. Only now, with so much opportunity squandered, so much patriotism wasted on questioning others’ loyalty to the country, so much fear instilled in the minds of Americans instead of good will and hard work elicited from our hearts and our hands, we need change more than ever. It’s not going to be easy being President right now. But just as we put our faith in President Bush after September 11, let’s put our faith in President Obama now, and hope for a better result.

Photos: Obama taking the oath of office (New York Times), Americans with flags (MSNBC)

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