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Take the Pledge

Along with millions of other Americans, I found President Obama’s inaugural address inspiring. And I don’t even like the word “inspiring.”

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt we, as a nation, had done something for the good of all, not the advancement of a few. And President Obama was calling us to further, concrete action. Right now there seems to be such fervor for change and renewal in the country. The spirit in the air is one of hope and, in the best sense of the word, patriotism, not as jingoism, but as a mature recognition that work needs to be done and that we must all pitch in.

An editorial by David Brooks in Tuesday’s New York Times sounds a call to action. He quotes Ryne Sandberg’s speech when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: “I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect.”

And while I wouldn’t say that Brooks’ editorial is a ringing endorsement of President Obama’s proposed policies, it certainly is an endorsement of the President’s call to the American people for participation in rebuilding the country.

The letters to the editor in Tuesday’s New York Times were redolent with hope and the willingness to act. Cele Keeper from Houston wrote “I see our task as listening and taking up the yoke of citizenship we let slip off when nobody was minding the store He [President Obama] needs our best as much as we need his. I, for one, am ready to dust myself off.”

Suzanne P. Elliot from New York wrote, “We are elated by the election of Barack Obama because we voted against cynicism and won. . . . Our nation’s fundamental values are freedom and hope . . . cynics said those ideals had never been more than propaganda in the first place. In November millions of Americans voted for the possibility that we can claim that vision and those ideals again.”

And Carol Coven Grannick, a former ’60s activist, wrote, “I had to—have to—believe that this man, Barack Obama, is as good as his word. . . . We want to believe that true leadership—caring, thoughtful, perceptive, deeply intelligent leadership—is possible. We don’t expect perfection. And we can’t wait to get back to work.”

We can’t wait to get back to work.

I’m hopeful we will. I’m hopeful we can act in the belief that the United States can be once more a force of good, an emblem of freedom and possibility.

The thing is, we need role models. So many of us have been quietists for too long. And it’s been understandable. There has been a scarcity of role models, civic leaders who listened to the people, responded to their concerns and led them into constructive action.

Instead of that we had an administration keen to expand executive powers, encroach on citizens’ rights to privacy, make and sustain a war.

And of course the negative role models have not been limited to the Bush administration. We’ve watched our pensions grow anorexic through others’ greed. We’ve seen the overturning of gay marriage in California. We’ve seen elected officials in so many states—including, of course, our own—crash and burn because they lacked humility, truthfulness, maturity.

And, first with Sarah Palin and now with Rod R. Blagojevich, we’ve watched governors make laughing stocks of themselves in trying to appeal for the public’s support.

We’ve been cynics for a long time. But now it is time to unlearn our cynicism and be about the betterment of our country.

We’re going to need help with this task not only because we lack role models to follow, but also because it’s a humbling task. It’s an admission that when cynicism makes us disconnect from a sense of civic duty and a sense of civic pride, we, as well as those we blame for the problems we have, contribute to them.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Pledge of Allegiance because I don’t see the value in a rote pledge to an inanimate object. That said, if we really pay attention to the words of the Pledge we find in them our charge as citizens to work for these outcomes—to be, as a nation, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In our lives, with all the many reasons to be disappointed by our leaders and embittered by our citizenship, it will take a leap of faith as well as a mature naiveté to work together hopefully once again. Can we?

Let’s hope we can.

—Jo Page

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