Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How Is A President Like a Window?

Our house in Trumansburg had stupid windows. There is really no other way to put it. The windows were too high up the wall and they were hinged at the top, so that they swung out and away from the house. Only thing was, there was a screen on the interior that had to swing inward a fair amount before you could even get at the outer window to push it out. The interior screens were not attached well, so they would sometimes fall in on your head (or shoulder or neck or back) as you struggled to reach the outer window and pull it shut. As I said—stupid windows.

So when we moved to Connecticut we were very focused on the windows of each house we looked at. We knew we would NOT put up with windows as dumb as the ones in Trumansburg. After much looking, we ended up buying a house in East Haven. The house was 100 years old, but it had been stripped down and re-done entirely, including new double-paned, insulated windows. They were amazing. They slid up and down. They locked easily without risk of concussion or death. They even tilted in for easier cleaning of the outer glass. Entirely NOT stupid.

We LOVED our new house, simply because it was NOT our old house. Just one problem—the neighborhood was, as they say, not the best. Our immediate neighbors were a court-ordered GPS-ankle-braceleted, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking eighth-grader and her heroin-addicted mom. The park on the corner where we went to use the swing set and monkey bars had used syringes and tiny ziplock baggies preferred by drug dealers lying in the sand all around the play structures. My three-year-old, Isabel, called it the “broken glass playground” to differentiate it from the “giant playground” that was a mile away and much cleaner.

After two years in that great house, we said goodbye to our perfect windows and moved again. By the time we made this second move in Connecticut, we were less focused on windows and much more focused on location, location, location. So now our house has drafty old inefficient windows, but it is in the perfect spot for us. The neighbors are friendly, there is a great park nearby, and we are both very close to work. None of our immediate neighbors is on probation.

We love our new neighborhood, simply because it is NOT our old neighborhood.


America is about to discover the joys of a new President. In the long run, Barack Obama may prove to be a great President. Time will tell. But in the short run, he is sure to benefit from the same dynamic that Erica and I experienced with our windows and our neighborhood. At first his approval ratings will be high simply because he is NOT George Bush.

Has ever a president been so unloved by so many for so long? All Barack Obama has to do is speak in full sentences, pronounce the word “nuclear” as it is spelled, listen to advisors who are willing to tell him the many sides and shades of an issue, and show some fiscal prudence. If he does these things, he will be wildly popular for a while.

Of course, at some point our collective memory of George Bush will fade away and we will begin evaluate Obama on his own, without the lame Bush yardstick as the measure of the man. But until then, it will be pretty easy for Barack Obama to look good. Again, all he has to do is NOT be George Bush. And he has been doing that for at least 47 years already.

Some in the moderate, thoughtful Right —Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell—are already on board. Barack Obama has their respect and their wary enthusiasm on his side.

Those on the rabid radical right are already guarding against the coming confiscation of their guns and the (continued) nationalization of the banking and energy industries, (beyond what George Bush, Henry Paulson, and Sarah Palin have already done in Washington and Alaska). When, on January 21st, 2009, the fringe right still have their guns and capitalism still exists in America, Barack Obama will have proven himself to be a better President than these people feared. Slowly, they will drift in his direction as they are surprised again and again by his moderation and bipartisanship.

When the inevitable drop in approval ratings does happen, I predict that rather than those who didn’t vote for President Obama being the most disappointed, it will instead be the far left who will start to be dissatisfied first. Many in the far left have come to see Barack Obama as some kind of savior. Carrying their huge expectations, he can’t fail to disappoint. He will not institute national health care in the first three months. He will not do away with the military’s Don’t Ask—Don’t Tell policy in his first year. He will not push for the arrest of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld on war crimes charges. He will not vocally back the fight for the right to gay marriage.

It is the fire-breathing, bomb-throwing true believers who will be most disapproving of President Obama. They have projected onto him all of their wildest hopes and dreams of “revenge governance” and he is just not that sort of man. When Senator Obama gave his speech on race in Philadelphia back in March, I became convinced that he was the man for the job. His speech showed that he is clear-eyed and sees not through the distorting lenses of fierce partisanship but instead through the sharpening lens of pragmatism.

After eight years of inept leadership, America has many problems for President Obama to address. And rather than using his first term to settle partisan scores and yank the country far to the left, President Obama will govern from just-left-of-middle and simply get a LOT done. Maybe he doesn’t have an MBA from Harvard, but the man knows how to manage. He is just what we need right now—a leader who is NOT George Bush.

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