Thursday, January 22, 2009

good luck/bad luck

There is a Chinese story, sometimes attributed to Lao Tzu:

A farmer used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?"

A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?"

Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?"

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off.

Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

I thought of this story during President Obama’s inauguration.

It was only a little over four years ago, after John Kerry’s agonizingly close loss to Bush. I was as depressed as I can ever recall being. I couldn’t believe the American people had elected George W. Bush with the knowledge of his first four years in the White House. And now we would have four more years of him. For days I felt like crying. I wanted to forget about politics altogether, forever. Maybe move to a surf beach in Baja and home-school the kids. No Internet connection and no periodicals. Just a duffel full of good books to last a few years.

If only I could have known then that the young African-American Senate candidate from Chicago who came out of nowhere in July 2004 to deliver an electrifying keynote address at the Democratic Convention … would be our next President of the United States. In the 109th Congress, which convened in January 2005, Republicans had just picked up four Senators and three House members. They had a 55 to 45 majority in the Senate and a 232 to 201 majority in the House. Four years later, the 111th Congress will have 59-member Democratic majority in the Senate and a 256 to 178 majority in the House – bigger than anything the Republicans ever had under Newt Gingrich or Tom Delay.

And just as a sort-of maraschino cherry on top, Congress will include a Senator Al Franken.

Oh, and Al Gore and Paul Krugman have Nobel Prizes.

It would have sounded like some kind of fantasy of a parallel universe.

What a difference four years makes.

As I was watching Barack Obama sworn in as president one of the many thoughts that went through my head was one that would have been unthinkable four years earlier: I was glad John Kerry hadn’t been elected. Because if he had, Obama wouldn’t have become president – at least not at this time, with the mandate for change that he has now. I don’t say this lightly. Had Kerry been elected, John Roberts and Samuel Alito wouldn’t be on the Supreme Court. New Orleans might have been spared much of the human tragedy it endured in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Any number of things might have been managed more competently and many better policies would have been put in place. But the full consequences of Bush’s disastrous first term would not have manifested themselves on his watch, leaving a highly-divided electorate to argue over the blame. And, yes, for all of his talents, Kerry is an aloof elitist whose lack of inspirational leadership skills would probably not have allowed him to overcome a weak mandate from a narrow win. There is a good likelihood he would not have been re-elected. And who knows what Republican would have replaced him.

Instead, we have elected as president the most remarkable politician of my lifetime. I have no problem predicting he will be a great president. With Republican policies thoroughly discredited and things in shambles, the country is ready for major, generational change. But polls show people are also patient, with realistic expectations for the near term, and willing to give the new president the time and support he needs to bring about the desired change. Obama has a solid electoral mandate, having won a 365 to 173 landslide in the Electoral College and a popular vote margin of over 7%. And he has the leadership skills to build on that – indeed, he already has. Sure, he is inheriting a mess. But all but a few Bush dead-enders acknowledge it.

Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

But it sure feels good.

1 comment:

LIsa Hjorten said...

That is one of your best pieces yet. Very good perspective on a lot of things, not just politics. Would love to hear about your experience at the inauguration...though perhaps you are penning that now.