On Wednesday morning when I went to my computer, I noticed that my son’s away message on his google chat said, “ready, willing and able.” When he came on line, I asked him what he meant. He replied, “to serve Obama.”
My son is a young attorney working for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. When I told my husband ( a Reagan Republican who cast his ballot for Obama as well) about our son’s away message, he said, “Mike works for the Federal government. He already “serves” Goerge Bush.”
While this may indeed be true, there is something qualitatively different about our son’s eager willingness to serve Obama – – to view and experience working for the federal government ( in his case on issues pertaining to laws relating to energy) as something more than a job with a decent salary, but as work in the world that enables him to contribute to something bigger than himself.
My son was an early and passionate supporter of Barack Obama and in many ways it was he who inspired me to cast my ballot for Obama in the Pennsylvania primary over Hillary Clinton. While there were many things I liked about Hillary — her intelligence, her work ethic, the wonderful job she had done as a mother, I felt that near the end in Pennsylvania, she had given in to the negative forces in her campaign and allowed her attacks on Obama to become unnecessarily ugly. ( I think the fact that Obama never went negative had a lot to do with his appeal in the general election.)
But it was my son’s passion and hopefulness that moved me to rethink my vote.
I have heard from many of my peers ( white middle class baby boomer professional women –) that their children’s ardent commitment to Obama and their belief in his message of change was high on their list of reasons for their voting for him. For years we had lamented our children’s generation’s lack of unity or commitment to a cause and with Obama’s candidacy, it seemed as if they found it — as if they could finally understand what we were talking about ad nauseum for their entire childhood about the passion of the Sixties. A essay in today’s Salon.com speaks to this issue. In an open letter to Baby Boomers, the Gen X writer publicly apologizes to the boomers for all of the years of making fun of our undying passion and annoying nostalgia for that time in our youth when we believed in the power of collective action to end a war, fight poverty and insure equal rights and opportunity for all men and women regardless of race or economic background.
In the ensuing decades, we grew up, had children, made lots of mistakes, became cynical and more concerned with our own welling being and that of our family’s than the common good. We passed this sense of malaise on to our children. In the discourse of the day, “public” became a dirty word synonymous with “bloated,” “bureaucratic” and “ineffective.” Public schools, facilities or public works of any kind were sold off to the private sector who it was assumed would do a far better job than government. Public service became something to deride and in the American imagination, government agencies became a haven for incompetents who weren’t good enough to work for corporations.
The scandals of Enron and World Com, along with the current economic meltdown and the images of corporate executives pocketing millions while middle class stock holders have seen our life savings and investments vanish has given lie to the canard that private interests can better run public institutions. Sarah Palin’s attempt to belittle Barack Obama’s experience as a “community organizer as a way of minimizing his qualifications for the presidency totally missed the point. Barack Obama’s work as a community organizer would prove to be the perfect experience for the kind of leader he has become. It has always been disingenuous to dismiss Obama as lacking leadership experience; for almost two years, he was the leader of the most impressive presidential campaign in modern history — one that tapped into the hopes and ideals of young Americans who were willing to work very very hard to see him elected.
It would be naive to believe that the election of one man, even an extraordinary one, can fix our troubled economy, extricate us from two unpopular wars, protect us from hostile enemies or bring about social and economic justice. But what he can do is provide smart, ethical and inspired leadership — the kind of leadership that has prompted my son and hopefully millions like him who supported Barack Obama to be “ready, willing and able” to dedicate their professional and personal lives to public service.