Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why I feel better about the 4th of July and about retiring now that Obama is President

One of my Facebook friends, Julia Ramsey, asked: “Does anyone else feel a renewed sense of pride and patriotism this July 4th weekend?”

Yes, the 4th of July feels different with Obama as President. To quote Michelle, for the first time in my life, I feel proud of my country.

I brought it up at a 4th of July dinner with my sister, her husband and some friends. My sister said she never liked the 4th of July. It was always hellishly hot, and when her kids were young she had to go to those awful barbecues, parades and mosquito-infested fireworks displays. And as a member of the Vietnam War generation, she didn’t feel very good about her country. None of our friends were the patriotic types.

When we talked about it over the phone yesterday, she said that Obama’s election made her feel more patriotic not just because his victory signals that racism is waning, but also because Obama obviously loves his country warts and all. If he could get over what he called our country's “tragic history,’ maybe she could too. I had never thought of it that way but it made sense and maybe explained some of my (more or less) change of heart.

It’s a lot harder to explain why his election has made me feel better about being retired. A while ago I mentioned to some friends that for some inexplicable reason having Obama in the presidency made me more comfortable about retiring. Their response: that doesn’t make any sense.

With a little help from my friends and family, I've kind of figured it out. Reflection on one’s life comes with the territory of retirement. For a long time I’ve been depressed about the huge gap between what I had hoped for in my youth and the ugly reality of George Bush’s America. This is the tragedy of the 60's generation: we spent our youth in a time of social possibility and our middle and later years during a time of reaction.

But some of the battles we fought did change the culture—if not the economic system—and Obama’s victory was in some sense a validation of the 60’s. (Yes, I know he doesn’t quite see himself that way.)

I was an early supporter—from at least November 2007. My sister recalled that I got into fight at 2007 Thanksgiving dinner with Clinton supporters. But I didn’t believe it was really possible and I was very quiet about my support.(I was a little uncomfortable as I am a NOW chapter president.)

Like most people my age I didn’t think it was possible that this country would elect a Black man as president. After Iowa, I began to rethink this and came out of the closet as an Obama supporter. I told the members of my NOW chapter and it turned out it wasn’t a problem as many of our active members were also Obama supporters.

I was a nervous wreck during the primary and having anxiety attacks up until Election Day. (Thank you, Nate Silver. Whenever I panicked, I went to fivethirtyeight.com to look at Nate’s reassuring stats.)

Inauguration Day was one of the happiest days of my life—certainly the happiest day of my political life. I couldn’t believe it had really happened.

Now I have gotten used to President Obama. What seemed unthinkable now seems normal! And like many other Obama supporters, I’ve begun to complain: Why doesn’t he demand repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell?" Is his support for the public option in health care weakening?

So how does all this connect to retirement? Witnessing this change in my country and making some small contribution to Obama's victory has made me feel a lot better about moving into a stage of life when I will play less of a role as an engaged activist--although I’m determined to be politically active as long as I'm sentient. I’ve entered my retirement in a much more optimistic frame of mind about the possibilities for social change. That counts for a lot.


  1. Hi, Karen. Yes, I too feel much better about this country and about being an American since Obama became president. And I too find myself now complaining about some of his willingness to compromise. But then I remember that that was one of the qualities that got him elected. He was willing to listen to all sides, to work with people of many political affiliations, to compromise if it meant accomplishing a larger goal. I just hope that his willingness to compromise doesn't gut the initiatives that attracted me to him in the first place. Oh well, what would I do if I didn't have a plateful of things to worry about? :-)

  2. Juanita, that's a very good point--

    being "willing to listen to all sides, to work with people of many political affiliations, to compromise if it meant accomplishing a larger goal" is what got him elected.

    I just got an email from a friend which also makes an excellent point:

    "I actually am more of an Obama supporter now than when I voted for him: governing is hard, especially in such a conservative country. He has a vision and has done more already than I expected. Just remind folks that he is a moderate, not a progressive, but that is more than we have had in several decades."