An appeal for an honored vow
Dear Mr. Obama:
I am afraid there has been a misunderstanding since that election in 2008, during which 66,882,230 Americans cast their votes for you. Perhaps one of your trusted advisers has given you bum information. Maybe they told you that we voted for you – walked, marched, prayed, raised funds and knocked on doors for you – because we hoped you would try to reunite the country. Of the total votes cast that long-ago November day, I’m guessing that about 1,575 people wanted you to try to reconcile the toxic bipartisanship that culminated in those Sarah Palin rallies.
The other 66,880,655 of us wanted universal health care.
You inherited a country that was in the most desperate shape since the Civil War, or the Depression, and we voted for you to heal the catastrophic wounds George W. Bush inflicted on our country and our world. You said that you were up to that challenge.
We did not vote for you to see if you could get Chuck Grassley or Michael Enzi to date you. The spectacle of you wooing them fills us with horror and even disgust. We recoil as from hot flame at each mention of your new friends. Believe me, I know exactly how painful this can be, how reminiscent of seventh-grade yearning to be popular, because I went through it myself this summer. I did not lower my bar quite as low as you have, but I was sitting on the couch one afternoon, thinking that this adorable guy and I were totally on the same sheet of music – he had given me absolutely every indication that we were – and were moving into the kissing stage. Out of nowhere, I thought to ask him if he liked me in the same way I liked him.
He said, in so many words, no.
And Mr. President, that is what the Republicans are saying to you: They are just not that into you, sir.
This may have thrown you for such a loop that you have forgotten why you were elected – which was to lead your people back to the promises of our founding parents. Many of us no longer recognized our country after eight years of Bush and Dick Cheney, and you gave us your word that you would help restore the great headway we had made on matters of race, equality and plain old social justice.
People, get ready, you said; there’s a train a’coming. And we did get ready. We hit the streets. We roared, whispered, cried, whooped and went door to door, convinced that even if Martin Luther King Jr. had not specifically dreamed of you, his dream of justice and equality and pride might come into being through your vision, your greatness, through the hope that your words gave us, through the change you promised.
He dreamed of a leader like you. Just like you. And something in the deepest part of this country’s soul heard.
After eight years of Bush, and then the Palin nomination, we were battered and anguished and punch-drunk. But in rallying behind you, we came back to life, like in Ezekiel when the prophet breathes the spirit of bearing witness and caring onto the dry bones, and those bones come back to life, become living people again, cherished and tended to.
We did not know exactly how you would proceed to restore our beloved Constitution. It seemed beyond redemption, like my kitchen floor did briefly last week after my dog, Bodhi, accidentally ate 24 corn bread muffins. You said you would push back your sleeves and begin, that it would take all of us working harder than we ever had before, but that you would lead. While acknowledging the financial and moral devastation of the past eight years, you said you would start by giving your people health care. You would do battle with the conservatives and insurance companies. You said in your beautiful way many times that this was the overarching moral and spiritual issue of our times, and we understood this to mean that you took this to be your Selma, your Little Rock.
I hate to sound like a betrayed 7-year-old, but you said. And we believed you. Now you seem to have abandoned the dream. That is why moderates and liberals and progressives like myself all seem a little tense this summer. It is time to call your spirit back. We will be here to help when you get back from vacation. We want to help you get over the disappointment of Mr. Grassley’s cold shoulder, of Mr. Enzi blowing you off, even that nice Olympia Snowe standing you up. We can and will take to the streets again, march and hold peaceful rallies, go door to door, donate to any causes that will help get out the truth of what a public option would mean. But we need you to shake off the dust of the journey and remember the promises of Martin Luther King, and we need you to lead us toward what is no longer so distant a shore.
Do it for Teddy Kennedy, boss. Do it for the other Kennedys too, for King, for the poorest kids you met on the trail, the kids who go to emergency rooms for their health care, do it for their mothers and for Michelle. Just do it.
Trusting you, Mr. Obama.
Author and novelist Anne Lamott wrote this commentary for the Los Angeles Times.