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Gary Horton: Back to the future — or to the past

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: October 5, 2010 7:51 p.m.
Updated: October 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Carrie and I subscribe to lots of magazines. Inevitably, they stack up, and once every month or so, we freak out and finally haul what seems like 100 pounds of periodicals out to the recycle bin.

We wonder about the excess of the Horton family’s carbon footprint. We’ve got two newspapers, The Week and The Economist, come weekly, and then there are a dozen or so monthlies. Left unchecked, Carrie and I could be buried alive under mountains of free speech.

But a fun part about uncluttering is re-reading the major headline articles from the past with the perspective of being in the future. Cleaning this past week, we stumbled on a Jan. 18, 2008, copy of The Week magazine. The cover: A picture of a revitalized Hillary Clinton plastering Barack Obama with a snowball. The caption: “Now, it’s a fight.”

That was back in the 2008 primaries. Hillary had just won New Hampshire, and there was much pundit chatter of her stopping Obama. You remember. That was the “I listened to you, and I’ve found my voice” moment.

This narrative went on until Obama strung together consecutive victories of something like 17 states, burying Clinton. But that was yet in the future. As of Jan. 18, 2008, it was a race between Obama’s “change” and Clinton’s perceived experience.

The best part of re-reading this 32-month-old magazine was the “How they see us” section titled, “America chooses hope and change.” The commentary on Barack Obama’s political ascension was promising. After eight years of extremely partisan Bush politics, what Obama most represented was a chance for a clean break to a new “post-partisan” era of cooperative government. Those were lively and inspiring times — and the world took notice.

France’s Les Echos wrote, “It’s been a long time since America has inspired us. But with the elevation of Barack Obama to frontrunner status for the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. voters have managed to rekindle the world’s waning faith in (America). ... With his rhetoric of hope and change, Obama, born in Honolulu to a Kenyan father and a white American mother, could well be the symbol of national reconciliation in a post-racial America.”

Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung observed, “Americans want their country to change just as badly as we do. The U.S., as we have, has had enough of George W. Bush and his policies of war, secrecy and divisiveness. If Americans give Obama the chance to lead the nation, they will have proved to the world that their country can still exert moral power.”

Said Britain’s Guardian newspaper: “That Obama made it this far shows that America has entered a new phase. Obama is black, but unlike most other black politicians who have come before him, he is not running merely to force the issues affecting black communities from the margins to the mainstream. He is running to represent all Americans — and it looks as if he could really do it.”

Yes, Obama did do it, eventually beating John McCain by roughly 8 million votes. In those dark, scary days of economic freefall into the Great Recession, America reached out and decisively voted for hope and change.

I recall Obama’s inaugural address. In front of record crowds, Obama struck a decidedly cautious note. We were in deep economic trouble. Climbing out would be a long, hard slog. We had two wars to wrap up, health care out of control, lingering problems from Katrina and more.

America would be challenged, and sacrifice would be necessary. But working together with sustained effort, America could again lift herself back to a bright economic future.

Olive branches of cooperation were held out between Republican and Democratic leadership. Yet in what became our political conduct of the past two years, Americans have let their better selves down. Too soon, the Republican strategy of “‘no’ to everything” brought partisanship and polarization to even greater heights than even during the Bush years.

America had voted for hope and change. What we got was the mother of all “change vs. more of the same” wars. Progress was achieved, but was incrementalized against such tremendous intentional friction.

We’ve stopped the economic crash, and we are now in slow recovery. We’re winding down the wars. We’ve achieved modest gains in health care.

Look around. We’re certainly in better shape than two years ago when economic crashing and uncertainty was the “new normal.” But we could have certainly done better with cooperation between the parties.

It’s strange that now as we’re finally witnessing progress, a reactive tea party gains influence in a fear-stoked blowback.

Its platform of slashing health care, Social Security, Medicaid and educational aid is akin to slitting their own, dependent throats. American politics surely remains as surprising now as it was when Hillary Clinton warred against the “out of nowhere” Barack Obama.

So which way now? Continued hope or back to more of the same — or worse? Looking back in two years, we’ll re-read the old headlines and marvel about America’s choices either way. We are, if nothing else, a fickle society.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.

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