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Reflection on the election

Local Commentary . Election 2008

Posted: November 17, 2008 8:40 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2008 4:30 a.m.

This presidential election is one for the history books. Around-the-clock political analyzing and second-guessing had as its downsize the tendency for pundits to misconstrue or blow out of proportion every word, gesture, deed, acquaintance and faux pas of politicians. Whether the commentators appear malicious or simply attention-grabbing, the influence of the news organizations played a pivotal role in America's democratic journey.

For those who believe George Washington's personal viewpoint and deeds were above reproach, one only has to read editorials of the day that targeted him as a "senile accomplice or a willing co-conspirator in the Hamiltonian plot to establish an American monarchy."

The American people tend to overlook the impassioned tug of war that pitted the founding leadership in a struggle over the size and power of the federal government versus the rights of states. Arguments regarding taxation, a national bank, a standing army, human rights and foreign alliances were vitriolic and divisive and eventually led to the creation of two political parties. It's interesting how we're still rehashing familiar political issues!

In one political firestorm, Republican leaders represented by Thomas Jefferson and Federalists sharing the viewpoints of Alexander Hamilton had opposing views about the wisdom of an American alliance with France in its war with England.

Washington realistically knew that the new democracy could not support such an alliance, and he detested how the political factions played to the fears and idealistic passions of the people.

He found the attacks on his leadership "outrages on common decency." Much to his credit, Washington rose above the fray and did not resort to name-calling and gossip-mongering. As a soldier and a statesman, Washington was known for his "cool head." Washington didn't get caught up in impassioned antics or ideological tirades. Instead, he surrounded himself with intelligent, educated and battle-tested men.

He recognized the necessity of a national tax system and a trained army due to his eight years fighting the English with little or no financial support from the individual colonies. He believed that a strong national government could help to unify the individual colonies whose disparate and often conflicting self-interests threatened the fledging republic.

Having a "cool head" is one of the traits I admire most about Barack Obama. He has walked the gauntlet of name-calling (elitist, socialist, buddy of a domestic terrorist, and questionable patriot), but Obama does not stoop to childish retorts. Rancor rules the airwaves, perhaps because the economic stakes coupled with our weakness for gossip-mongering bring out the worst in people.

I would much rather have a president who can justify his decisions and relationships with reasoned explanations than listen to a president resort to half-truths and innuendo that fan the flames of ignorance and idiocy. Obama does not dodge the accusations: In my opinion, he addresses them eloquently.

President Washington's commitment to traveling and meeting the people in all of the colonies, his excellent work ethic, his commitment to learning, and his ability to listen to differing points of view are traits that I look for in a presidential candidate.

I have been pleased to observe Barack Obama's connection to people from all walks of life. In his quest for the presidency, he made countless trips to states that have been traditionally Republican havens.

The Blue State versus Red State mentality may became something of the past if we can embrace a president who envisions a better life for all.

I believe that Obama has an empathetic and visceral connection to the struggles facing so many people today. His biography provides a clue to his humanity. As a man whose family did not fit the traditional profile of presidential candidates, he has had to prove himself without the legacy of family connections.

Barack Obama has stated that he was fortunate to have academic doors opened for him and he proved to be an excellent student.

His election to the Harvard Law Review was based not only on his academic credentials but also on his ability to listen to others and remain moderate and accessible to those with opposing points of view.
Most impressive to me was his dedicated work as a community organizer in Chicago.

George Washington's biography is fascinating. Most Americans think of Washington and the myth of the cherry tree. In truth, he was an ambitious man who improved his fortune, hobnobbed with the rich but had empathy for the poor, married well, exhibited courage, learned from his mistakes, and served his country with restraint and integrity.

Washington lost more battles than he won as a military man, but his tenacity and willingness to reflect and learn from his mistakes helped the colonies win the war and form a nation.

Questions regarding Washington's position on slavery are not new, but they are as relevant today as they were in the 1700s. Washington walked a personal tightrope regarding the social institution of slavery. Being a Virginia landowner, he understood its powerful economic and social chains.

His attitudes towards slavery, Native Americans and western expansion may surprise those who idolize him, but one has to remember the era in which he lived. Washington freed his slaves after his death, a position that was seen as traitorous by southerners and overdue by Abolitionists.

Social change is painfully difficult and today's controversies over the wars in the Middle East, individual rights, and the constant struggle of those who suffer are as controversial as the question of slavery.

There are no easy answers or quick fixes that will satisfy all of us. We are face to face with an economy reeling from excess materialistic greed, poverty, massive joblessness, environmental woes, and religious fanaticism (strangely reminiscent of the Middle Ages) rearing its ugly head.

The American people have come a long way in their quest for equal opportunity, and it pleases me that the first black man to stand at the helm of the presidency shares virtues and character traits that historians also attribute to George Washington.

I salute the work of grassroots community volunteers throughout the 50 states whose democratic fervor has awakened people across America and spread Barack Obama's message. I am hopeful.

Leigh Hart is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among several local Democratic activists.


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