Friday, January 31, 2014

The President in Nashville = Super Exciting for Me


President Obama speaking at McGavock High School
Photo courtesy: WATE.com

Earlier this week my girl said to me, "I love learning about the men and women who have done things for our country. I want to know their stories and their families. It helps me understand about America and maybe what I can do someday. Presidents and civil rights people and other leaders are really interesting."

Once I was able to clear the mist that had somehow formed over my eyes, I was able to continue driving.

Having my kids be civically engaged is so important to me. I want them to be invested in what is going on in their communities and knowledgeable about the issues facing the nation. They can come to have opinions diametrically opposed to mine as long as they are thoughtful and can back them up at the dinner table. I love that my four-year-old son recognizes President Obama's voice as soon as he hears it and my eight-year-old daughter wants to know more about the Constitution and John F. Kennedy.

I love that excitement not only in the voices of my children, but when I see it in other young people. That is why I was a government teacher. And that is why I was thrilled that President Barack Obama came to speak at our local high school yesterday (and appreciated that he first took time to meet privately with the family of the student who was killed this week). Regardless of politics, what a wonderful moment for these teenagers, that their school was chosen from thousands of others in our country for a visit from the leader of our nation. For the class president who was given the honor of introducing the President and the hundreds of other students selected to be in attendance, I know they will remember this afternoon for the rest of their lives. I was excited on their behalf all day. And I didn't vote for the President. Either time. But I appreciate what his presence meant and I would have loved to have been there. We don't get presidents rolling through Tennessee very often!

And then I thought about the larger picture, about what was occurring yesterday beyond the walls of that high school gymnasium.

There were protesters and supporters along the motorcade route, sometimes standing side by side. Those who dislike the President and/or his policies were welcome to write whatever they wanted on a piece of poster board without fear of being sent to a prison camp or executed. And the supporters cheered because they actually like what the man is doing, not because they wished to avoid a lethal fate as well (I'm looking at you, North Korea).

I was not the victim of a chemical weapon attack by my own government. My gay friends are not in prison. I did not watch my child die of starvation or an easily preventable disease. I am not living in a refugee camp as my country fights a civil war. I can stand in the middle of Centennial Park (or Central Park, for that matter, if you want to take it out of the Bible Belt) and yell, "I'm a Christian!" and not worry about facing persecution. I feel no need to try and escape my country via shark-invested waters on a car hood or patched-up raft (Yep, looking at you this time, Cuba).

These examples all may seem dramatic, but they were running through my mind a lot yesterday as our president paid a visit. How fortunate and humbled I am to live in the United States, when countless 38-year-old women no better or worse than me have lives I cannot fathom simply based on the geography of their birth. I want my daughter and my son to understand that. That's why we sat and listened to the President's speech on the radio. Catherine thought it was very cool that President Obama was only a few minutes away at her high school. (Ian just wanted to ask him why he never responded to his birthday invitation). I want them to challenge our leaders when they feel our country is not living up to the high expectations we should have, but also appreciate and respect the freedom they have to protest at all. I hope that no matter their age, they still feel the excitement if a president should pay a visit to wherever they may be living, not because the president is worthy of fawning or superstar status but because of the system that he (or she) represents (of course, the president probably still will be Obama when they are adults, since I know he plans to suspend elections, declare himself king for life and sign a decree making a tax rate of 90% for all those earning $50,000 or more).

I disagree with the President on most things. I think the ACA is a disaster, I am opposed to raising the federal minimum wage, I would like the Department of Education to be abolished. But, I don't blame him all that much or dislike him at all, as many people do (and as many felt toward our previous president . . . our current president is not unique here). President Obama was chosen by millions of Americans as the person whose ideology they most wanted in the White House. I don't like it, but I accept it. He won fair and square. This wasn't a military overthrow or father-to-son hand me down or rigged election. If you really feel the need to be angry, then be angry at the voters. Protest when the president comes to town, but do it not because you want to focus ugliness on one man, but because you wish to affect change on a broader scale. If the electorate comes to decide they do not like what Obama's policies mean for our country and we have a candidate effectively offering a different message next time, then great. If not, well, the majority still has spoken and shame on small government, libertarian-minded folks such as myself for not more persuasively crafting an alternative vision for our country.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by Nashville, Mr. President. It's a pretty great place and I was excited you chose to recognize our schools and the people who work and learn in them.

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