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Dogs and Children

....accurately denote a family's competence and good will which is, coincidently, the point of government

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 21, 2009.

I judge people almost entirely by their dogs and their children. If their dogs cower or are ill trained after sufficient time in the household, if the kids seem unduly unhappy or rather given to melodramatic scenes in public and manipulative enterprises transparent as glass and unremarked upon as such by the parents, these are clues to how the adults involved actually are, and speak louder than their charitable donations or public postures. Much like felony convictions in their past.

We don’t know much about Barack Hussein Obama and his family or much about his leadership skills, given that he’s had small experience anywhere to build up a record. And, he doesn’t have a dog yet. But he does have two young children, and to my discomfort yesterday, I noticed that the eldest is getting taller daily, and the little one has no hesitation about wrapping her arms around her dad in public and hugging him while he’s talking to another, which suggests this is a more demonstratively affectionate father than he sometimes appears in public. Given all the crushing responsibilities of the office just won at this time and circumstance, and that Dad at the same time has to represent his racial heritage positively around the world, he could perhaps be forgiven if he was aloof from his kids to a greater degree. But, his kids tell a different story.

NBC’s anchorman told a story the day before the inauguration about the children being lugged around Washington. During a visit to the Lincoln memorial, that intimidating temple, the eldest is reputed to have said something like ‘the first African American President had better be good.” If true, it speaks highly of her that she thought that. If true, it speaks highly of her parents she not only thought it and could say it aloud without condemnation but that it was repeated for the media.

If not accurate, it still speaks highly of them, because it rings true. There’s none of the dissonance as when Bush 41 claimed to like 7-11 beef jerky, or Jimmy Carter referenced nuclear disarmament discussions with his daughter. That the children of two such highly successful and competent adults without prodding trot out the better aspects of the gene pool is not surprising. When Rudi Giuliani’s kid stood behind his father’s Gubernatorial inauguration speech and mugged for the camera all through it, that was telling about the parents.

Given their mother has an even warmer and more endearing smile than the father, in aggregate with undoubtedly high brain power, these Obama kids are going to be something. It’s good to see that with all else, they’re still kids and react as such. The thumbs up to Dad after the speech from the youngest, who compressed her excitement through the day literally skipping till she nearly fell asleep at the endless ritual later, is as warmly reassuring as the contents of that speech. When Dad speaks about parental responsibility to certain demographics of absent fathers and low expectations and calls a spade a spade, he’s cutting though to the quick more successfully than any before. And when he speaks about equal protection under law, and civilian responsibility for the overall health of the nation, I expect most of the electorate will have his back. Because while his political goals tend towards the progressive, Barack Hussein Obama is the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic, that supposedly hallowed creed of conservative America.

I have been embarrassed in the last few weeks to discover that I’ve been excited about the prospect of this new administration, and excited because I suspect we may see something long missing from Washington and many state capitals: not just competence, but an excess of well intentioned competence. It’s possible there can never be too much, and I hope it composes a large portion of the Obama legacy.

To anyone paying attention, George Bush had already decided upon his legacy when he was first inaugurated. He was talking in 1999 about how he’d make the tough decisions, and that he wouldn’t mind being a war president, and that only history could judge him. Not good or effective or valuable decisions, just tough ones. He was merely proposing we elect him to elevate his self-esteem by the criteria of the 1950’s westerns of his youth. Conservatives in office, it turned out, are just as enthused inflicting airy fairy dogma and myth as the most addled, crystal pyramid enthusiast from the left.

The new President isn’t like that. He, just like the esteemed private sector, values brains and competence. He also, like the constructive community activist he once was, wants long term beneficial result from government. After all, that’s the point of government. Remember?