Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 85- America, the potluck

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight I am at a potluck dinner for visiting friends. We've gathered a group of people, some of whom have known one another for lifetimes, while others are connected to the group only through the briefest of acquaintance. College students, new parents, old friends and complete strangers; we've come together over food and drinks and a shared affection. The hosting family has a philosophy of inclusion; the more, the merrier. They may not know all of their guests, but there is nothing they won't do for them. This group of people recalls the America I always thought I lived in when I was young. I had this fierce belief, as a child, that we not only welcomed every one to our country, but that we sought to support them, to nourish and educate and inspire them, to foster the culture that brought out the best in people. This diversity, this welcoming spirit, is what I thought made our country strong, wise, and exceptional.

Clearly, I grew up in an era that demanded more cynicism. The hopeful belief that our country was always right or at least well-intentioned was lost as I came of age under President Bush, who was elected as I began High School. It wasn't just that I began learning about the darker aspects of our own history; I saw that the leadership of our country had failed, completely to learn from the mistakes of the past. I don't think that my experience of losing faith in the American idea is wholly different from that of many American youth. We are nurtured on the idea of an America that is one big, benevolent force for good, and then we come of age, shocked to find that this America was just one more Santa Claus.

I think this is why so many of my peers are so cynical, so disengaged. We see the disparity between the way we are raised to feel about our country's history, and the brutal, often bloody reality of that history and how it is continuing to unfold, and we can't help but be disillusioned. I think this sentiment was what you tapped into when you campaigned; you touched the part in all of us that still wanted to believe in Santa Claus, in American exceptionalism and the hope that the idealism of America's myth could yet be realized.

So many of the guests at the party tonight are upset about the current state of American politics. Because this is Seattle and, for all of our diversity, we're still a fairly liberal bunch of people, most of them are upset that the public option failed, or that some other aspect of your policy hasn't lived up to your campaign's promises. I'm sure that the disappointment of your supporters has become just as tedious a refrain as the anger of the right at their perceived marginalization. Maybe our expectations were unreasonable; maybe your promises were too lofty. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Being in this room, surrounded by the love and hospitality of friends and strangers alike, seeing the capacity we have, as individuals, for goodness and generosity, I have to believe that for all of the complaints on the left, for all of the hysteria on the right, we are an exceptional nation, a place of constant evolution and redefinition. The real truth behind the America we believed in as children was that this great undertaking has never been more than the collective efforts of a group of strangers, the sum of our best selves and best intentions. When we lose sight of our own role in this project, every one loses out.

You don't have to prove how bipartisan you can be to unite and inspire this country. Mr. President, your success came not in your stance on the issues but in your ability to make us believe in our own abilities. You haven't reached every one, Mr. President, but you've certainly taught me that this country will only change when we all are willing to work for it. I am frustrated with the slowness of our progress, angry at the extent of our compromises, but I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction.

Respectfully yours,


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