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David Sirota
David Sirota
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The Gulf Between Hope and Change


A confession: I occasionally cry during romantic movies and History Channel documentaries. Another confession: I often pretend that I'm coughing or clearing my throat in order to obscure said crying from friends and family. But watching the presidential inauguration, I — like millions of Americans — lost the ability to hide a public case of ocular Niagara Falls.

History undoubtedly spurred some of our national outpouring this week. A black man being sworn in to lead a country built on slavery, segregation and persistent racism is an unfathomable landmark.

There were also tears of prospective jubilation. Hearing a new president deliver a Rooseveltian "we're all in this together" speech instead of a Reagan-esque "every man for himself" implied the closure of an entire political era. In that sense, the moment felt like the first day of the rest of America's life.

Transcending our past and beginning a new future — these are heady undertakings whose complexity and uncertainty explains the apprehension many sensed rumbling beneath their inaugural elation. Though presidential festivities and media superlatives tried to numb any feeling other than happiness, it's only natural to experience a twinge of anxiety while celebrating at the edge of an abyss.

America is certainly optimistic that Obama will take bold action. But with failed get-rich-quick schemes now bleeding risk into every corner of the economy, it's hard to feel like rescue is even possible. Indeed, with so many of the same people still calling the shots on Wall Street and in Washington, speeches about American resilience can seem like hospice anesthesia rather than promising reasons to hang on for a cure.

While rightfully commemorating Obama's victory as a step toward Martin Luther King's dream, African-Americans also wonder about new polls showing the country thinks racism isn't a problem anymore. Black leaders fear the election could be used as another excuse to ignore rampant inequalities.

As Dr. King's son warned: "Obama's election is not a panacea for race relations in this country." Can White America accept that truism?

Thinking about future generations, parents and youth fret about whether our government — even led by a forward thinker — can muster the will to fight climate change. Is spaceship Earth the Apollo 13, headed for a miraculous recovery? Or are we on the Challenger, destined for a deadly explosion?

These are only a few of what Donald Rumsfeld might call "known unknowns" — and the most opaque of them is Obama himself.

Cut through the meaningless platitudes describing our new president as a post-partisan, post-racial pragmatist, and you find an inspiring leader who organized us around optimism. Then consider that leader's behavior since the election, and you run into that nagging speck of doubt. His less-than-inspiring Cabinet appointments, his support of Bush's Wall Street bailout, his embrace of nonsensical corporate tax cuts — these moves raise questions about whether Obama is willing to differentiate between his two campaign themes: hope and change.

While both those things have lately been in short supply, the distance between them on policy is the gulf separating ambition and realization. Hope is a bill peppered with "may" — the word that merely asks banks or polluters to regulate themselves. Change is a statute teeming with "shall" — a term forcing its targets to comply. Hope is telegenic glamour, winning smiles, and poignant one-liners. Change is all the grinding work and uncomfortable confrontations that come with challenging power and enacting transformative laws.

The reason so many cried this week is because we can finally glimpse that change in the distance. And yet, those pangs of concern linger. They don't undermine the euphoria or diminish Obama's promise. But they do recognize that we worry about hope's mirage — and pray there are no illusions this time.

David Sirota is the bestselling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future. Find his blog at or e-mail him at



5 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;...I often cry when I visit our National Battlefields to see where men died thinking they were dying for liberty and Justice for all, for opportunity, equality, and a lasting part of this commonwealth... The thought of that ultimate sacrifice made for a promise sooner betrayed than made always brings tears to my eyes, and fills me with resolve.... The noble goals of the past we must take up as our own goals.... If we will make liberty certain for the next generation we must make it certain for ourselves... WE cannot expect our political destiny will not follow our economic lives into the slavery... We cannot expect political rights without economic rights... We must have justice in our lives, and give it in all our affairs; and if that means we must cut loose from those who feed on wars they would never fight, then so be it...This is a land tried by fire, and if we must be tried again, then bravery will be what it has always been: the first and highest of virtues.... Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jan 24, 2009 11:35 AM
Sir- Your complete misrepresentations of the principles on which this Republic was founded are breathtaking in their scope. Slavery (in the form of coercive taking by the State of the fruits of just labour) was the main reason that the colonists threw of the yoke off the Tyrant. As far as segregation and racism, we are guaranteed by the Constitution "Freedom of Association". I hold no truck with people who will judge others by the colour of their skin (as most brilliantly held forth by that great libertarian, Dr. Matin Luther King), nor do I agree with the use of the coercive power of the State (wether it be southern sheriffs, federal bureaucrats or NJ Department of Youth and Family services) to impinge on the inalienable rights of the citizens. We are NOT "all in this together". We are free men endowed by our Creator with free will- the only proscription on us is the use of the threat of violence to coerce others into doing anything that violates not human rights, not civil rights but the Divine rights of a person to own their persons, their private property and the fruits of thei labour. Presidents Lincoln, Hoover, Roosevelt, Bush and by his rhetoric Obama are all part of the same system- take from all and give to the few.
I do however, completlely agree with you on the subject of bail-outs.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Craig Worman
Sat Jan 24, 2009 11:13 PM
I was inspired subscribe and to write after hearing your cogent comments on Moyers' Journal.

Please don't write off corporate taxes as a given--they add to product cost for us, and diminish our competitiveness internationally.

I am an independent, and favor a flat tax with no deductions, and no tax for, say <$15000. Let's start there and see what we need to add.

I also favor a single-payor healthcare payment system, possibly phased in by spreading inward from the senior and child coverages.

Allan Berggren, M.D., retired ear-nose-throat surgeon
Comment: #3
Posted by: Allan Berggren
Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:40 AM
Could you write your next best seller about the Lobbyist 'on K street, and the horsetrading politics that polarize,and paralyze our political process. Political capital is measured still in lobbyist clout, 365 days of fundraising for incumbant elections.special interests regardless of the red or blue stripes of the politicans suit. Thanks.
Comment: #4
Posted by: tom foster
Mon Jan 26, 2009 6:41 PM
I was surprised at your 'sobbing' per inauguration of Obama/ most especially after purchasing your book,
Uprising. I have cried (lived there) in the fields of Gettysburg and at the Wall in Washington/ I have worked for years in a large city with the dispossessed/ homeless, vets, etc. Granted we no longer do history (read Howard Zinn's book - which took him 20 years, of TRUE U.S. history) which excuses those led to believe (media hype) that finally King's Dream was being realized. I thought (watching) that Dr. King would be rolling in his grave/ and never vote for Obama. Because GWB is white didn't influence me to vote for him/ just so, what does a half Black man have to do with him being REAL or qualified? RECALL - before he was killed, Dr. King came out adamantly against WAR! Obama is more of the same/ now the KILLING fields of Afghanistan, with more 'collateral' damage, children's shredded limbs! He voted (imagine King doing this) 4 times AGAINST protections for babies born ALIVE after botched abortions/ Reading his history I saw a spoiled child never suffering deprivation/ he lied about food stamps (they didn't come into full use until 1977 - his white grandmother a VP of Hawaiian bank and him in private school hardly qualified...and Rev Warren the Right Wind nut case was WRONG (inaugration) introducing Obama as the 'son of a African immigrant'. NOT - his father (bigamist) was the son of a tribal leader - educated here, left President Obama's mother when he was age one, and went on to graduate from Harvard/ none of the family was ever close to the jailing, marching, water hoses, bombings (children) of Dr. King etc. This was the BEST PR - media hype I've seen / the marketing of a Black (well half) Man/ With Clinton era II in place/ and his elitist appointments, yikes - this is NOT change. One wonders (like your book speaks of) of the deals (Clinton - Obama - globalists) that went on WAY before 'election' time? Futhermore this Obamamania is frightening/ heck he didn't even have any experience as a Senator (spent his time campaigning) and is as far removed from the REAL travails of Blacks in ghettos, Washington D.C. tenements, decaying schools, no medical care, filling our jails (for prison industry) as George Bush is! I fear a lot of people are going to be disappointed - but then it all depends on how the media plays this/ people are pretty conditioned to TV infotainment.
Comment: #5
Posted by: jude Moriarty
Fri Jan 30, 2009 12:27 PM
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