Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CAN WE CHANGE? -- AND WILL WE?


Well, the BIG day has passed and Barack Obama is finally President of the United States. I've been impressed by this guy for a while and it's refreshing to finally have somebody in a position of power in America who seems to possess both great qualities of character and a clear desire to make the world a better place.

I could have done without the Media Love-In that accompanied him into office. But I realize that in a time of rare "Good News" stories some of that's to be expected. The Globe and Mail's John Doyle has a nice piece today about this disconnect between the real story and what passes for news coverage these days.

And it got me wondering how many of the media -- and the rest of us -- really picked up on what "The Man" had to say during his inauguration yesterday.

Last night on the news, I was treated to shots of wild-eyed Kindergarten teachers leading their kids in frenzied chants of "Ba-rack-O-ba-ma" in scenes that reminded me of newsreel footage of braided Aryan children praising Hitler or Asian toddlers giving Mao a mass fist-pump.

Is there no way that "indoctrination" (of any kind) can be added to the definition of child abuse?

This morning, one of the meat-puppets on CTV's "Canada AM" described Obama's walk to the White House being accompanied by cheers that were "Just like the Beatles -- only much louder" as if the story still needed even further embellishment and she were a reliable expert in decibel comparisons of crowds 40 years apart.

If any of you journalists reading this are wondering why there's so little public sympathy for your recent and precipitous job losses, consider that these are the people you have allowed to stand unchallenged as the cream of your profession.

Before those who feel I'm of a conservative bent get the wrong impression, I was also put off by all the whining about what "bad form" it was for the crowd in Washington to Boo President Bush's departure. If you ask me, they should be heaving a sigh of relief that he was being put on a plane bound for Texas and not heading out to make a court date in The Hague.

Be all that as it may, what's really nagging at me today are a few indications that those who put Obama into office might be the first to bridle at the changes he hinted at bringing about yesterday.

And I gotta say, off the hop, that these are impressions created by things most people probably didn't notice. But then, noticing what others don't is supposed to be part of my job.

During the four seasons of "Top Cops", I did a lot of ride-alongs with American police departments in an effort to make sure our stories reflected, as much as possible, the actual experiences of law enforcement officers.

One of my first was with an elite drug squad in New York City. This was at the height of the much vaunted "War on Drugs", a war the good guys were losing badly.

The unit I shadowed was considered the best of the NYPD's gang and drug officers, augmented by State Police, FBI, ATF and DEA members. Despite all those movie cliches you've seen about competing departments and clashing egos, these guys were crystal clear about their agenda and everybody's contribution.

By night, we prowled sections of Manhattan most people didn't know existed. Block after block was like an urban setting that had been dropped in from Beirut, Gaza, or some post-apocalyptic thriller. Whole chunks of the most populated island in the world's greatest city were without electricity, garbage pick-up and other normal necessities of life. Fire and Ambulance crews would not venture into them unless accompanied by a police escort and the police themselves always responded en masse.


I was stunned by my first trip through one of these "No Man's Lands" and stunned further when one of the cops checked his watch and announced it was time for coffee. Where could you possibly find coffee here?

Yet, five minutes away, we pulled up in front of a trendy coffee shop, the kind that serves $3 cookies, having organically grown coffee on a patio among Yuppies pushing baby carriages or walking their dogs. It was bizarre. Venturing a block from this location on your own wasn't a good idea and traveling a block further was downright suicidal.

Across some invisible line -- chaos. On this side -- an understood entitlement to comfort and safety. And while the officers I was with talked about taking back those lost blocks, I wondered how they went astray in the first place.

The team was headquartered in one on Manhattan's elegant old courthouses, a building with that architecture most of us were first introduced to in "Batman" comic books. I was particularly impressed by the massive washroom down the hall, all marble and antique porcelain. A brass plaque on the door made it abundantly clear it was for the use of court officers and judges. Every time I stood at one of its floor to chest urinals, I wondered what famed legalist, Supreme Court Justice or perhaps American President had once whizzed in this very spot.

One day, I was washing up and the head of the team wandered in and rinsed off his hands, talking to me about something the whole time. He yanked a paper towel from the dispenser, dried his hands and tossed the crumpled paper -- on the floor.

As if on cue, one of the other men in the room did the same and I suddenly realized there were a number of discarded towels all around me -- even though there was a shiny chrome garbage can on the way to the door. As the head of the team held said door for me, I bent to pick up the towel he'd dropped. He stared at me.

"What're you doing? Come on! That's somebody else's job."

And there it was. The reason so much of the city had been lost. For too long, looking after it had been somebody else's job.

With all the wonderful things that were in Barack Obama's speech yesterday, one phrase stuck in my mind and reverberated as its sentiment was repeated in much of the rest that was said.

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned."

A theme that returned again and again...

"Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame."

"Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed."

"For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies."

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship."


The challenge was repeated in as many combinations and permutations as could be encompassed in 18 minutes... "Listen up, I'm not the Messiah -- how this turns out is up to you."

He mentioned workers cutting their losses so friends don't lose jobs and dumping government programs that hadn't succeeded and I wondered how that sentiment will play in the unions and artistic community that have so thoroughly embraced the man.

Here in Canada, in our last election, the majority of our Artists vilified politicians opposed to funding failed arts programs, refusing to consider other paths. This week, our auto unions are refusing to even countenance rollbacks in their wages in order to save their industry.

Obama said the time has come to get rid of "petty grievances", "worn out dogmas" and "protecting narrow interests", yet a whole lot of Canadians who support this man recently sided with a coalition of political parties who threatened to seize power rather than forgo their entitlement to funding from the public purse.

And the new American President made it clear he will take on the terrorists and I wonder how that will sit with those of us here who decry "Harper's War" in Afghanistan or march in solidarity with Hamas.


And while, for me, accepting those challenges includes somebody with more muscle taking a hard look at Blackwater and Halliburton and a whole lot of investment bankers, I have this awful feeling that many of the people who supported Obama were looking for somebody who'd do their jobs for them and (like a good Messiah) also suffer for their sins, so their lives could continue uninterrupted by any "hard choices".

And what makes me think that? One thing was this photograph taken on the Washington Mall a couple of hours after the inauguration.


Litter. Waste. Some poor old lady in a wheelchair left to find her own way out of the obstacle strewn cold. This is what everybody who heard those eloquent words left behind.

What happened to all those drawn to Obama and to be a part of his inauguration by their desire to save the planet, provide help for the sick or make America a more conscientious and caring society? These people heard those words first hand and yet, somehow, it's still somebody else's job.

Seeing that photo was followed moments later by perusing the video below. Others elsewhere have rightly torn this thing apart in both heavy-handed and light-hearted ways. It clearly indicates that among those who most don't get the hard choices that lie ahead come from within our own community. A community that has always been privileged, pampered and imbued with the belief that their job is to deliver a message, not do any of the heavy lifting.

The world really has changed and it's time for us to change with it. Much as I had no use for the Bush White House, I have the greatest respect for whichever staffer left a telling welcome gift on every single emptied desk -- a jar of hand sanitizer. A clear message congratulating the new arrivals for the courage of their convictions and achieving power, while reminding them that the time will come when somebody has to get their hands dirty.


1 comment:

JA Goneaux said...

"Listen up, I'm not the Messiah -- how this turns out is up to you."

Exactly. I've said, "how many of those mooning over Obama understand that he's saying that THEY have to change?".

Or, to paraphrase: "Ask not what your country can do for you...".

And I'd feel better about the whole thing if I didn't think that so many of his constituency didn't remind me of those folks on "Judge Judy" who spent their tax refunds on bailing out their ex-boyfriend...

Or if his Canadian supporters (many of whom don't even vote HERE) would realize that he is an American President for the American people and American businesses first and foremost. That he'd think of doing anything that would help Canada or the rest of the world over American interests is political naivete in the extreme.

That, and a Congress (mainly rich old white men) that will be increasingly protectionist over the next 2 years...