Late last spring, during a particularly busy part of the year, I had to bow out of a class field trip to FDR's house in Hyde Park, a particular favorite venture in my kids' primary school education. It allows me, in the course of day, to celebrate an American democracy that was vibrant and true for the grandfather they never met, my dad, just out of kindergarten when the market crashed in 1929 and a proud serviceman for his country's war against Hitler.
Here in New York, there is a genuine celebration of America's diverse democratic experiment--especially in the public schools--and building that bridge back in time to their late grandfather's cherished values engenders deep pride. In his mind--and in the language he passed on to me--it was about FDR, the New Deal, and a country coming together to care for one another. Sacrifice and unity were words not easily tossed about; there were foundational bedrocks of an optimistic democracy that he lived within--a reality, I think we will sadly agree, holds less weight today.
Some years ago, at a stoop sale soon after moving to Brooklyn, I bought an old picture of President Roosevelt that had appeared in the Daily News in the 1940s. Faded, yellow and rapidly disintegrating, it was tucked into an old wooden frame, teetering on the verge of decay. It's among the scattered icons in our apartment, meant to evoke a better time and in so doing, to convey to our children that descend from those who believe in better times that were and in better times yet to be.
Recently, my daughter suggested, as a kind of "make-up" for missing the trip to Hyde Park our own day-off journey there, as she put it, "to nose around the archives, you know, see what we find." I know she dreams that in a random Ernie Pyle column she'll find a trace of the grandfather she never met; or when we see FDR's car she'll wink at me and remind me of what I told her about my dad's 72 Impala convertible; and in either case, she will have built that bridge toward me and together we would have crossed between the promise of the past and the exhilarating possibility of the present.
Well, I'll be honest. Tonight, amidst new terror alerts here in New York City, an energized start to a Packers season and a terrible Brewers drubbing at the hands of the Phillies, the President of the United States seized the practical initiative yet again and put forth a few ideas that could begin to set us on the right path toward making our country better than it's been in the past decade. And I was really happy to see President Obama begin to push back in this way. It wasn't FDR. But the Republicans have everything to lose by opposing it.
Though we unfortunately do not live in an era where proposing a "New" New Deal is practicable, he spoke as strongly as one could of *doing* what is right to make America what it ought to be. Given his virulently destructive opposition (pay attention, fellow citizens: in last night's debate, Governor Perry again called social security a "horrendous lie" and denied the veracity of global warming) he offered up ideas--payroll tax cuts, support of infrastructure renewal, saving teachers' jobs, tax cuts for employers offering a living wage to workers--that begin to create, God willing, a narrative of shared responsibility and therefore, hope.
The Audacity of Hope. Remember that? That was then. The hatred and obstructionism toward the President has been greater toward him than at any other leader in our own lifetime. While it's true that many of his supporters would have wished for more consistent "fight" over these past few years, it is also undeniable how religiously fanatic the opposition has been. And in an era where the value of national unity (beyond Kid Rock singing in front of American flags prior to an NFL game) is not really shared but is mocked by its sheer destructive force, I was heartened to see our President methodically muscle his way back to the Though not an ideal set of solutions, our President tonight offered a way forward more achievable and therefore inspiring than anything we've seen since 2008.
Where inspiration is achievable if not visionary.
For now, I'll take it.
Sometimes--and now is one of those times--the mundane achievements, accumulated, brings us to a better place.
The New New Deals can wait for later.
But let's not kid ourselves. While our current leaders muddle through, I'll take that trip to Hyde Park with a hope and a prayer for encouraging the next generation to dream and achieve great things for our country. With more funding for the remarkable schools and educators that teach these kids, the sky's the limit.
Together, one with the other. Their elders could learn a thing or two from how the youth deal with matters of substance and urgency.