Neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I
It is in fact an old Scottish ballad, but The Water is Wide has become one of the most covered songs of the last decade, mainly due to its sexual ambiguity. A few lyrics mention a man, but others are meant to represent woman, and both sexes may gain equal joy (or sadness) from it.
Among those covering it have been Karla Bonoff, Eva Cassidy, James Taylor and Charlotte Church. My own favorite version was done by Sarah McLachlan, Jewel and The Indigo Girls during the 1990s Lilith Fair tour.
The song is especially poignant right now, as we ask how wide the water must be under President Barack Obama to reach the goals we seek. They are immense goals. The water is extremely wide. It will take more than two to get oer. It will take everyone rowing together to find the other shore.
Unfortunately the politics of the Baby Boom generation are ill-equipped to the task. Ever since the 1960s we have been engaged in a zero-sum game, us vs. them, with them being an unalloyed evil.
I don't question the evil of the Bush Administration. Neither will history. But that evil should be seen, not just as the crimes of men and institutions, but also as the culmination of a long series of events and disputes that hardened hearts on every side. It was the hardening that made these crimes possible, as neither side saw the other as legitimate and thus went in lock-step wherever their leaders pointed, even into the gates of hell itself.
While conservatives will dispute this, liberals and their causes have been the main victims here. Men like Alan Greenspan, James Inhofe, and Frank Gaffney would have been marginal figures a generation ago. In this decade they became mainstream and drove policy. By contrast figures like Howard Dean would have been mainstream Republicans during the Eisenhower years, with their emphasis on balanced budgets and conservation. In this decade they seemed beyond the pale.
So for many liberals, especially in the Netroots, the 2008 election represents payback. And they were appalled -- appalled -- when Obama announced that Rick Warren would give an invocation at his inaugural. Warren has made a career scapegoating social liberals in order to fleece a conservative flock, and has become quite fat himself in the process. Especially in light of Proposition 8, which removed rights, dissolved marriages and had Warren's enthusiastic support, how could he?
Maybe because, in the greater scheme of things -- the fate of the planet most especially -- Proposition 8 is small beer. The First Amendment gives religion absolute sovereignty over sacraments like marriage. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees everyone the equal protection of the laws. Howard Dean offered an elegant compromise, in civil union for all, years ago, but neither side listened. Both sides were, and are, too busy demonizing one another for that.
On issues that matter -- the fate of the planet most especially -- Warren has not been a malign figure. He has brought a significant group of Americans into the proposition that we must reverse global warming and try to live in harmony with what God made here. Reject him and you reject everything about his movement, even that.
Still, how could he?
Every President brings some unique background to the White House. George Bush partisans are fond of calling him the first MBA President. His father's career was in the foreign service, and Bill Clinton's in domestic governance. Jimmy Carter was an engineer and Ronald Reagan an actor. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon entered public service at very young ages, and with vastly different motives. And so on.
Barack Obama is a Constitutional Law professor. That is his career background. It's what he worked on most closely at Harvard Law, it's what he taught in Chicago. He is a historian who has studied all his predecessors, who knows their mistakes, and who also has made a close study of himself.
At this turning point in our nation's history we need to trust him, and thankfully most do. The trust of the people is the most vital weapon any President has. It is necessary not just to get policies through, but to make them work.
This is the real lesson of Clinton and Bush. Clinton had the credibility to make his policies work. His personal popularity remained relatively high throughout his term, and he ended on a high despite never winning a popular majority, and despite being impeached. Bush got his policies through, but he lacked the popularity to make them work. He was constantly circling the wagons. The circle eventually drained him, growing smaller-and-smaller until it swallowed him (and all those who followed him) whole.
It will take an immense amount of credibility to bring in new policies and make them work. We have to transform our health care market. We have to transform our securities market. We have to transform our energy policy, and our concept of security. We have to lead a world that has become as cynical concerning American intentions as Americans have themselves.
To do that you require a consensus. Warren will be part of that consensus on some issues, but not others. Digby the same. We all will play our part. (Personally I find the Vilsack, Salazar and LaHood nominations head-scratching.) It is far less important than liberals think what the so-called press thinks -- many will soon be unemployed and their hatred of Clinton never brought him down, nor did their love of Bush make him successful.
What I'm asking for here is faith, something that politically is in very short supply at this time. Fortunately the American people get it, even if the activists, elites, and media mavens don't. We all must row if we're to make the other shore.