Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 230-Cars and ditches, or how I beat a metaphor to death

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Dear Mr. President,

As the last of the combat troops were pulled out of Iraq today I thought about the night the war began. I was driving home from coffee with a friend when I heard the news, still a junior in high school. A friend and I had been drinking chai tea at Starbucks, an activity that felt vaguely subversive in itself as the chain had opened only recently in our small town, and my father still didn't approve of us spending so much time there. I was too young to vote, but still, I felt responsible for what was happening. For not doing more to stop it. My best friend had gone to anti-war marches in Seattle- what if I had gone, too? Would it have made a difference? I'd had this belief my entire life that my opinion mattered, by virtue of being an American. A naive faith in the power of Democracy to ensure that my country would always act with good intentions. So much of that youthful hope was dead by the time I arrived home. Suddenly, instead of being an empowering, inclusive force for goodness and wisdom and justice, our government seemed hostile, unyielding and frightening. I don't know if my government changed that night or if I did. Lately I've heard you refer to the country as a car the Republicans drove into a ditch; for me, that was the night we lost control.

What I felt today seeing Operation Iraqi Freedom end was not happiness. It's what you feel when you've gotten the car out of the ditch and surveyed the damage. Grief. Anger. Self-reproach. Relief. I'm grieving for the lives ruined by this war- the lives lost, the families broken, the maimed and traumatized and homeless and broken on all sides. I'm angry that this was done in my name, under my flag, associating me with it forever. Still, I wonder, could I have helped? Could I have stopped it or made it less awful even for one person if I had been more involved? This is not a moment of joy, this is not a victory for the left. A mistake of this magnitude cannot be corrected, it can only be prevented from getting any worse.

When you mention this car and ditch metaphor what you are asking is for Americans to understand that the reason your legislative victories and accomplishments don't feel like progress is because they aren't. We haven't made any progress because you've been trying to repair the damage. Real progress, you contend, will only begin once the repairs are complete and we can drive again. The first 3 or 4 times I heard you use this analogy I admit, I rolled my eyes and brushed it aside as more talking-point nonsense. But today that all changed. In my personal life, I've been waiting for a long time for progress. I've been doing the hard work that has to be done and feeling like I'm in the same place I left off. Today I realized this is because I've been trying to make repairs. I've just gotten the car running again. I haven't gone anywhere, but it's ok, because at least it's fixed. I'm in the same place, but I'm not the same person. And all I've got ahead of me for miles and miles is road.

This war might be over, but you've still got a difficult job ahead. I think I was losing faith in you, for a while. I didn't like that feeling and, even if it turns out to be misguided, I'm glad to feel hopeful again. I'm sorry I had to feel it on a small, personal scale to understand and appreciate what you were saying. It hasn't been easy, and it isn't going to be for a long time. I think that you've got an important message, Mr. President, but your greatest challenge is returning a sense of control (and the responsibility that goes along with it) to people disillusioned by so many years feeling like we can't make a difference. Like we don't have the wheel. Finding a way to involve and empower the people of this country (to do more than just show up on election day) is the only way forward if your Presidency is ever going to be about more than just cleaning up your predecessor's crash sites.

Respectfully yours,


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