The President Gives us Permission to be Optimistic

January 24, 2013

Over the weekend I made the pilgrimage to Washington D.C. for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Attending an inauguration in a packed city is not a simple logistical feat. Many roads are closed and the metro is jam packed with people. Luckily some law school friends of mine rent an apartment about ten blocks from the Capitol, and they let me crash there the night before. I only had to wake-up at 8 a.m. for President Obama’s noon speech. The wait was long and cold. I was tired. However I was happy to be there.

We live in a world of cynics. People and pundits dismiss politicians as corrupt and the voters as stupid. For better or worse, the mainstream view of politics and government is rather dim. Lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats are often greeted with skepticism. Yet in spite of all this cynicism about the process and our future, President Obama walked onto the stage and gave us permission to be optimistic.

This stood in stark contrast to the story you may not have heard about the man in the tree. He rightfully was not given time on the television cameras or radio feeds, but for those in attendance the man pictured below was quite the annoyance. He began his arboreal ascent around 9 a.m. when he unfurled a sign and started shouting unintelligible things. Eventually we were able to discern that he was protesting abortion. The Capitol police were apparently flummoxed at how to react to his presence. They yelled at him to come down and subsequently deployed two ladders onto the tree. They climbed up and he climbed higher. Then they backed down. It was too dangerous for them to follow him further.

So high atop the tree he sat for a couple hours, resting. Then, as the benediction began, he started shouting. He called Obama the anti-christ and begged the crowd to end the American holocaust. There were some bouts of shouting and angry tweeting at the man, but for the most part the large crowd managed to ignore him.

As irritating as he was, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that the man in the tree sat there shouting for hours unharmed while the President delivered his inaugural address. In more repressive regimes he may have been shot or knocked down without concern for his safety. However it is also a testament to the American people that when confronted with the man’s gospel of fear and cynicism they ignored it and accepted their President’s invitation to be optimistic.

Over the past four years, President Obama and the American people had a tough Act I. The economy still has some ways to recover and we still have problems to solve. Yet where everyone else sees roadblocks the President only seems to see speed bumps. He has made tangible progress in areas like healthcare, immigration, and civil rights. For that reason, in spite of how unnerving challenges like the fiscal cliff are, I am still excited to see what awaits us in Act 2.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.