I have mostly avoided bringing political issues or commentary into this blog because I don’t think I am particularly qualified to offer expert opinion on this topic, and due to my distaste for the sort of off-topic and highly vitriolic things that infest comments sections of such blogs. However, considering the importance of what happens today, I don’t mind writing this.
I have a fairly vivid recollection of a lunch-time conversation from several years back. This was at work, in a technology company in Austin. I was with several colleagues. Most of us had originally come from another country before spending several years in the US for study and/or work – with the exception of one person who was a native Texan. We were discussing the upcoming presidential election (Bush vs. Kerry) and the fact that, for such a diverse and cosmopolitan country, there was literally no diversity in the type of people who hold the highest office. I was surprised to note that the majority of people on that table thought that this was just fine and people unnecessarily complain about this point. The native Texan, who was slightly older than the rest of us, said that the presidential race was an elaborate affair and perhaps non-WASP people were just not up to snuff for that sort of grilling. One of my South American friends wondered if there wasn’t some regulation that prevented non-whites from holding that office! And so on…
I found this whole conversation deeply disturbing. I understand that I am like most academics when it comes to politics in that I have predictably liberal or libertarian views. However, I could not believe how many of my colleagues, highly educated professionals who – in my personal experience – were very decent and kind people, were so apathetic and dismissive on such an important issue. After repeatedly hearing this sort of opinion, I began to buy into the categorization implied by the red state-blue state rhetoric. A couple of months later, when I chanced upon the famous “I have a dream” speech on the web (perhaps on YouTube), I thought that it would be a long time before that proverbial check would get cashed!
In the more recent US presidential election, although I wasn’t eligible to vote (I happen to hold residency in the USA, but not citizenship), I was an Obamaite from relatively early on. But, based on what I described earlier, I began with a deep-seated sense of pessimism about the chances of victory for this campaign. “Those people” would not let it happen, I thought. The first half of this race did nothing to convince me otherwise.
It is a tribute to the idea of America and the steadfast determination of the incoming president and his campaign that the cynicism of people like me has been shown to be more or less unfounded. And even if the check that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. refers to in his speech hasn’t yet been fully cashed, it is good to see a first instalment being paid! And it is good to optimistically say “Yes, we can!”
PS: For those of you who have not yet heard Dr. King’s famous speech, follow the link below. This is easily one of the best speeches I have heard in my life so far!