Adventures from Back of Beyond

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Way out here in Back of Beyond, we are far from the mainstream of national politics. That's why, when I woke up on the morning of January 20, 2009 -- inauguration day -- it took me by surprise that overnight I had memorable dreams of Barack Obama and what would happen on that historic day.

Full disclosure here: I did not vote for Mr. Obama. His opponent, John McCain, you might call something of a neighbor. McCain's "cabin" is located just beyond Back of Beyond, in a place called -- appropriately enough -- Hidden Valley. I've been over twice for dinner, and over the years have gotten to know him a little bit.

I voted for McCain because I felt I could judge his suitability for president based on personal experience, which I always value over tainted and biased media reports of all kinds, regardless of party affiliation or political persuasion. They're all biased. It's difficult to get clear, objective news nowadays.

The first time I had dinner at McCain's cabin -- actually a complex of several beautiful homes located along a lush riparian habitat -- I complained to him about how unfair the entry fees were at Grand Canyon National Park. I told him the fee structure should favor and promote buses and larger tour vehicles, which help reduce congestion and pollution problems in the park. He told me to put it in a letter and send it to him, which I did a few days later.

Heard nothing back for a few weeks, then, lo and behold, the NPS at Grand Canyon quietly announced a new "fee structure", which although it actually increased fees for coaches, also increased fees across the board and made a fairer system for entry. Hmm. I was impressed.

A couple of years later I saw McCain in action on a local issue pertaining to a federal land trade, water, and an endangered river. The work he and his staff did was far and away superior than anything else by our relatively do-nothing congressional delegation. He created by far the best solution to a very difficult problem. Also impressive.

So McCain had my vote based on personal experience. I didn't really give a whole lot of thought to Obama, but since he was elected, he's now my President too, and I fully support him. Still, I have not felt at all caught up in any of the Obamamania that's been sweeping the country, and especially in advance of the inauguration day.

So that's why I was wondering, on the morning of January 20, why I had dreamt of it. Call me cosmic, but my conclusion was this: I was somehow tuned into the enormous outpouring of national support and good will toward this charismatic man. Either that or the substantial positive energy of what was already out there tuned into me in my dreams. In any case, the history of this man will most certainly turn out to be a very significant and compelling life story.

So I watched the speech and the millions of ecstatic people basking this moment of history, "our time", and felt caught up in it too.

What is it, I wondered, about Obama, that makes him so affable and gives him such tremendous support -- an 80% approval rating as he takes office.

Is it his equanimity, his calmness, his intelligence? Is it his ability to distance himself better than most, view situations more objectively than most, due to his background of not really belonging to any one culture or race?

By the way, he's called the first black or African American President, but I would argue that's technically something of a misnomer. He's really bi-racial, half white and half black, and just as much white as he his black. But clearly he identifies with the black culture. And let's face it, the reality is in this society even if you're half black, you are treated basically as black -- and everything that goes along with that treatment.

But it was nonetheless inspiring to see how moved people were by this man's ascension to the highest office in the land. It was as if people were thinking "if he can do it, I can do it." My feeling is that Mr. Obama makes people want to aspire to better things, to improve themselves as he has done, to serve as he is doing, and to reach our greatest potential, both individually and collectively as a country.

To me, it's almost as if Mr. Obama's a blank slate, someone who most everyone can project themselves as, and identify with. He's an everyman who's just become President. And he's very, very good at being that blank slate that everyone can identify with, a superbly skilled and charismatic speaker and communicator.

People don't tend to view Mr. Obama as an elitist. In great contrast, we do tend to view as elitist the outgoing President George W. Bush, President #43 -- himself the privileged son of a President, a former baseball team owner, and one who has many well-connected ties to people in the highest positions of power in business and politics.

Yet the reality is Mr. Obama is a Harvard educated lawyer. He is and has been in a relatively elite position for most of his adult life, and certainly for his entire professional career.

Still , and in great contrast to Bush 43, Mr. Obama has my complete respect because of the way he's reached the highest office in the land -- by clawing his way to the top against truly incredible odds, picking himself up from the bootstraps, doing it on his own, starting from nothing and literally working his way up. Nothing was given to him. He earned it, all of it. I respect and admire that.

Now, we will now find out just how well our everyman can lead. I wish him Godspeed.