I have grown up with George W. Bush.
George W. Bush ascended to the oval office when I was 12 years old and entirely politically apathetic. I lounged on the couch in a rainy Florida hotel room when the hanging chads debacle was carried out and Al Gore was sent home with his head hung low.
I did not watch Bush's first inauguration. I had a vague and socially correct sense that he was conservative and anti-science, anti wilderness and all the others things I held dear. But he had only just become president, and we can all remember 2000, before the tech bubble burst full and proper, when we had a raging surplus and the world still liked us well enough.
September 11 dawned crisp and warm in Sacramento. The TV was on and I figured out soon enough that two airplanes had crashed into the twin towers, that things did not look good. I watched with childish apathy for a few minutes before school - accidents happen, disaster movies are transfigured to life - and then, in a puff of smoke and blackness, I saw the tower go down. This was serious, this had happened, and I knew with a sudden and horrifying sense (somewhere in my throat) that the world had changed in this moment, that it would never again be the same as I knew it, that we were all going to have to deal with it.
So began my last eight years, so began my journey as a political person and as an American citizen. I cannot say it was an auspicious start.
All of us on the left experienced the same disappointment and the same gut-level disgust and anger and personal revolt as the nation began to shift from the principles and traditions we'd long held dear into the shape of something different and largely unrecognizable. My own values and opinions and biases developed during these past eight years, molded and influenced by my discontent and dissatisfaction with my own country.
I think I speak for much of my generation when I say that we will be forever changed by the ugliness we've seen in the past decade-or-so. We witnessed irrational exuberance and buckets of internet-fueled cash give way to Middle-Eastern quagmires and financial ruin. We watched as Osama Bin laden scuttled away unharmed, watched as my very own adopted city of New Orleans was flooded and wounded and ignored. Worst of all, many of us lost our patriotism and our sense of pride. I was not proud to be an American for these eight years. Instead, I was embarrassed and I was ashamed.
By the time of the 2008 election, I admit that I was jaded. The 2004 election took me apart. I decided I didn't have the fortitude or the conviction to put myself into politics so entirely again. I voted, that's for sure, but I largely let the primaries and the campaigining and the bickering pass me by. Let others check the blogs, let others sweat blood and tears on the side of whoever, let everyone else care.
I backed Barack Obama and I thought he was good and intelligent, but I didn't understand Obama-mania or the incredible fervor and energy many of my peers devoted to his campaign. I didn't understand how many in my generation could consider him to be something akin to a messiah in a designer suit, as if he were some sort of angel of mercy, ready to lead us by the hand out of the political nightmare we've grown accustomed to. Let me be clear: I still don't. I salute Obama's victory and I am impressed by his achievements so far, but his time in office is just beginning, and our country's fate, the world's fate, now hinges on his decisions and actions. I hope he is capable of living up to our titanic expectations of him. I hope we will not be disappointed.
I watched Obama's speech today in closed-captions, scissoring back and forth in the air on an elliptical machine, the sounds of Coldplay coming in tinned waves from our gym's audio system. It was not an inspirational spot from which to watch a historical event. I normally consider myself a hard ass, and I had already planned to watch the speech in a respectful and politely detached fashion. But seeing those scores of people, hopeful, happy, and chilly, all gathered on the mall to welcome in our first African-American president, the first president I've been happy to welcome in myself - well, it got to me. For the first time in eight years, for the first time since elementary school American history, I was just a little bit proud to be an American.
These things are old. These things are true.
Welcome, Mr. Obama, and god help you.