"So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other."
-Barack Obama, Victory Speech, Chicago, November 4, 2008
It was these words that moved me to tears as I heard them in Amsterdam's early morning hours. Although the sun had not yet risen over the Amstel River, a new day--and a new era--had indeed dawned on America, and to some extent, the entire world, regardless of time zone.
It's rather difficult to summarize my emotions on this November 5th. As the wind swirls and the cold penetrates through the streets of Amsterdam, I feel as warmly optimistic about my home country's future as I have in a long time.
I've always been what I consider a "patriot," but perhaps in a way that doesn't fall under the traditional definition. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of democracy, the strength of a free-market economy, and the industrialism and ingenuity of Americans. I applaud our nation's creativity, work ethic, friendliness, and incredible generosity (both domestically and internationally). I'm in awe of our forefathers, honor the courage of those who have walked the land before us and who died to protect our freedoms, and love the plenty and gifts that we enjoy today. Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights are brilliant documents, written by forward-thinking, intelligent men who were ahead of their time.
And there are plenty of things to dislike and to be ashamed of. We have abused our privileges and soiled our land, water, and air. We have taken advantage of others, forgotten the helpless, punished the innocent, and profited out of greed and lust for power. We have hated those who look different than us or believed and behaved differently than us. We have made decisions out of haste and ignorance instead of logic and careful consideration. These black marks on America's report card don't extend just eight years into the past, but have existed for generations.
Yet, we march on in pursuit of better lives for our children and subsequent generations. Whom among us doesn't aspire to do better, feel better, and make better decisions?
That's what a great leader--in business, politics, education, or sports--can help us do. They can help inspire, affect change, and see the greatness that lies in our nation and its people. Through things as simple as a speech or a little action, they help make us feel that we can do better, feel better, make better decisions, and be a positive force in this world.
I'm not a big fan of Ronald Regan. But regardless what you think about the man's politics, there's a reason why he was dubbed "The Great Communicator." He had a way, through his words and demeanor, of helping the American people feel better about themselves and believing in their ability to do better things in this world. Some felt that he went too far, instilling a confidence, fueled by a cowboy mentality, that eventually developed into an "international arrogance." Still, he was a leader who lifted us up.
This is what President-elect Obama can do for our country. His calm, studied, intellectual approach lies in stark contrast to what we've become accustomed to in the last eight years. His words, the delivery of those words, coupled with his actions, can affect change at a time when we need it the most.
The immense power that Barack Obama has been granted by the electorate must be quite the weighty burden right now. The eyes of the entire world are upon him, and the world expects change swiftly. Mr. Obama's easel is not blank--every color of paint has been splashed upon the canvas, which must be carefully scraped away and painted over with a fresh base-coat before we (working together) can start to create a masterpiece that we all can stand back and admire. Sacrifices must be made by ALL of us so that we can improve America and stand again as a nation that is respected around the world.
People in Amsterdam and other places across Europe are incredibly curious about the American political process and have been watching this campaign with great interest. Not a day goes by that I don't discuss the topic with a non-American citizen. Each one of these discussions, whether casual comments or deep philosophical talks, renews (1.) my interest in our nation's wellbeing and international perception; and (2.) my sense of pride in our country. Today, I have another reason to be re-energized: The election of a man whom I believe can be the catalyst for great things.
Yes We Can. The challenge now will be for us to transform that saying slightly and believe in our ability to create our own realities. It's not grammatically correct, but I'd like to offer the Obama slogan 2.0: Yes ME Can. It's up to each one of us as individual citizens of a great nation to summon that new spirit of patriotism, service, and responsibility that Mr. Obama spoke of in his speech in Grant Park.
I hope that you share my optimism as we celebrate this new page in American history--a truly historic day on so many different levels. And I invite you to join your neighbor in taking up President-elect Obama's offer to "work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other."