Think of this as Volume 12, Number 51 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
I was born a Roman Catholic, and I'm certain the church fathers still count me, but we drifted apart long ago. My son goes to an American Baptist church -- Roger Williams baptist as opposed to John C. Calhoun baptist. Long story short I know something of sin and forgiveness.
Penance is important, but it's only the first step on a necessary journey. You're supposed to marry intent to action. You're supposed to change your behavior.
For most of this decade America was an outlaw nation. We rejected your reality and substituted our own. Many liberals, like me, had thought of George W. Bush to be an elite imposition on our politics. What we learned this year is he wasn't. His party's grassroots may have rejected his record, but they have yet to reject a single thing he stood for.
Tea Party people reject evolution, they reject global warming, they reject diversity in color, race or the human heart. They are as rigidly ideological as any old Communist, and why not because for so long it seemed to work so well? They will reject everything I write here as the delusions of a liberal mad man. That is why I call them haties.
But we have sinned. America has invaded other nations without just cause. We have killed hundreds of thousands of people, spent over a trillion dollars we didn't have, yet we have found no peace. We have become a Dickensian nation, a place of wealthy banksters and a hollowed-out middle class. We have rejected the notion of our grandfathers that society consists of mutual obligation, of our forefathers that we mutually pledge to one another our lives, fortunes and sacred honor, and that the result of a zero sum game is always zero.
Not all Americans feel that way. Most voters, seeing the destruction of our economy, the destruction of New Orleans, the rising temperatures and rising seas, sought a new way in 2008. It was a fundamental change of direction, not a short-term shift. Men and women the age of my children, black men, brown women and foreigners, these are the new majority. As strangers have always risen, in America, to create new majorities and remake the country.
Barack Obama has invested that hope, but he has yet to generate a return. He has sown but we have not reaped. He promised long-term investments so it should be no surprise. But it is.
It always is.
The first year of a President's term, especially one as remarkable as this one, is always given to setting plans, to changing laws, to turning the ship of state into some new direction. Unfortunately many of the tools that were vital in keeping Bush from being even worse than he was, like the filibuster, have come back to bite Obama in the ass.
So despite having big majorities in Congress the President's agenda has stalled. The waves around us have stopped rising but the sea appears becalmed. Those who reject the idea of penance, loyal Bushies still, are on the march, sometimes comically so, and the media (which always lags any change) pretends these imbeciles are the future.
All this makes for a depressing Christmas. Health care has not passed, climate legislation has not passed, Copenhagen has not passed. The banksters still rule. Despair hangs over the Netroots like a shroud, a growing "enthusiasm gap" threatening to overturn change before it can happen.
But here is the stark and hopeful truth.
Our penance has been heard. Change has come. Policies have shifted. The government is in the hands of people trained in the disciplines they're managing, with no agendas other than those of the public. Health IT is coming, much of the surplus has yet to be spent.
And we have allies. That's important. Despite Iran, despite Pakistan, despite Somalia and Zimbabwe and the Congo, the world is far more united today than it was a year ago. We know what must be done, we see the opportunity in it, and our leaders are looking up instead of down. Not just here. And not just in government. Companies like IBM and GE, philanthropists like Bill Gates, they're all beginning great, transforming, even profitable work. We are slowly become a nation of makers and innovators again, even if most of it is still in the lab or on the drawing board.
I am no theologian. But as I wrote at the top I know something about penance and its purpose. Penance is meant to prepare us for the grace to come. It allows us to walk to the altar and accept God back into our lives, forgiven and renewed.
Penance is not always successful. I have known people who repented their sins, made firm promises to begin again, and have yet been struck down. Some were simply not forgiven. Others died.
Penance is not risk-free.
But Christmas is a time of hope. Christmas is when we re-connect with the better angels of our nature. Those angels exist.
I can feel them all around us. And they are anxious to go to work.