Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I Learned From the Election

Now that the dust has nearly settled (we still don't know about that filibuster-proof Senate yet, do we?) I've realized I've gotten a lot of lessons from the election of 2008. And I'm a big believer in taking note of lessons learned, since if you ignore them they tend to come up over and over.

1. People are easily scared: Hillary's three ayem phone ad was, according to polls, actually effective. Obama was seen as the less-steady hand, the shaking newby who would crack under pressure. Seems pretty silly now, doesn't it? The man's proving to be a rock - and a confident one.

2. Scared people get angry: Once the fear of Obama was spread around thickly enough, people reacted with anger. Who can forget the Republican crowds screaming "terrorist!" "Kill him!" And that anger turned against John McCain when he tried to reassure them they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency. And these were his supporters!

3. Scared people will latch onto things that make them feel safer. Conservatives clutched Just Sarah From Wausilla to their hearts. She was young, she was pretty and she was absolutely certain everything was going to be okay. Progressives held Obama equally tight. Ditto. Luckily for Just Sarah, she's not going to be held accountable for this poop soup that used to be our economy. Our president-elect, you must admit, is a brave soul. I wouldn't want to take this job on.

4. Even scared people can be won over. I have some very conservative relatives. One of them will also freely admit to being a racist. So imagine my surprise when, in a recent conversation, he told me he "didn't think too badly of Obama" anymore. "He's certainly smart," he told me, "and he seems to be sincerely trying to fix things. I wish him well and hope he can do it." Score one for the Obama Team.

5. The people in charge don't necessarily know more than I do. It's a holdover from childhood - this assumption that if you're in charge, you must know more than me. You'd think that eight years of George W. Bush would have beaten that out of me. But it took Hank Paulson to do it once and for all. The poor man is clearly in way over his head - he's trying to come up with a rescue plan without a firm handle on what might work and a mandate to take care of old pals....but don't forget to not totally alienate public opinion! Remember that old Star Trek episode where Kirk used logic to short out the bad robot? "You say you are lying, but you tell the truth..." Paulson's conflicting imperatives are forcing a series of epic flip flops and I am expecting to soon see steam coming from his ears as his circuits overheat. I believe this problem is going to take a committee - a bunch of smart people bouncing it around until they come up with a plan...not a unilateral fix that is politically expedient. Score another for the Obama Transition - the team's gelling.

6. The media is ridiculous. Yes, I know. I'm one of them. But really. It's downright embarrassing. Because cable and satellite have created a 24 hour news cycle, the news shows most resemble a bunch of old people sitting around a table hashing and rehashing the same topic as they play canasta. "Is this change or just more of the same?" "Should Obama be keeping a lower profile?" "Is Obama taking charge too soon?" "Which dog will the Obama's get?"
It's the same stuff over and over and over and there's rarely anything new. When there is, everyone pounces on it like a pack of dogs in an alley. Pretty soon it's so mangled there's nothing left but a little bone.

7. Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart rock. Jon Stewart is my favorite media watchdog. He's smart, he's willing to take on the people he likes as well as the ones he disagrees with, and he's essentially good hearted. This man brought on the tightly wound Bill O'Reilly and offered him not a tongue lashing, but a cup of cocoa and a teddy bear. It was a dig, but there was an element of sincerity. Stewart's essential warmth (remember him after 9-11) and obvious idealism make him the critic with a heart. And man, does the media need to be watched. Opinion masquerades as news everywhere now.
Maddow has a similar warmth. She may be progressive, she may be snarky, but she's human. When she says she's been waiting years for infrastructure to get sexy, you know she means it - and she's thrilled that it's happening. She's not standing on the sidelines jeering, she's emotionally in the middle of things and talking about things that she believes matter. I can't watch the news much now - it makes me twitch. But Stewart and Maddow still tell me what they're thinking most nights.

8. I Don't Know Much. I never thought I knew much...lots of people had more information and lots more opinions. I've come to realize I know very little - and any opinions I hold are subject to change as more information becomes available. I think the good thing is once you know you don't know much, you're willing to listen and learn. I'm listening.

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