About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
What a morning
Today I’m writing about Barack Hussein Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States not because I have anything particularly new or insightful to say, but because it is such a momentous event for the country and the world at large. It also happened to be the first Presidential election in which I could vote as a new citizen of the USA, and you can bet your life, as Groucho Marx would say, that I voted for Obama.
It was a long night for me not because the election was in doubt or too close to call -- McCain conceded around 11 Eastern Time, and Obama gave his acceptance speech an hour later -- but because in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I live, people were celebrating in the streets as if the US had won the world cup! I don’t remember that sort of enthusiasm when Bush was “elected,” either the first or the second time.
This is an historical election for so many reasons, some of which will become clear in the course of the next few months and years. We have just chosen an African American as President, thus striking a major blow to one of the last remaining forms of discrimination in this country. (There are three more, in order of decreasing likelihood of being overcome soon: the first woman, the first gay, and the first atheist presidents. But we can wait a few more years for those.) I don’t expect miracles from Obama, but I do expect him to do his best from day one to undo much of the damage that Bush, Cheney and associates have done both to the US and to the world. There isn’t going to be any magic bullet that Obama can fire at our problems, but he comes to power on the tail of a landslide victory and a significantly increased presence of Democrats in both the House and the Senate. He can surely claim a mandate to make some significant changes in Washington. And yes, he can.
Obama will have such a huge number of titanic and urgent problems to deal with (the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, global warming, health care) that it is hard to believe he was smiling last night during his acceptance speech. Nonetheless, two issues are going to truly define his Presidency: he needs to reverse Bush’s erosion of civil liberties in America, and he has to appoint liberal judges to the Supreme Court. We cannot pretend to be “the best democracy in the world” without showing to the world that we do not curtail our freedoms in response to fear. And we cannot afford to have conservative judges set back for a generation the liberties that have marked much of the social progress in the United States throughout the 20th century -- beginning with the right of a woman to control her body and reproduction.
Good luck, Mr. Obama, you’ve got yourself an overwhelmingly tough job to do, one that would halt most people in their tracks because they wouldn’t even know where to begin. But you can do it, and so can we all.