I took two walks earlier today. Despite the dire warnings of the media about the ghastly human gridlock that was (and probably will be tomorrow) inevitable, I braved the Metro system, and wandered around the Mall and the White House precincts for about an hour this morning. I detrained at Archives/Navy Memorial and reboarded at Foggy Bottom. The crowds were heavy but manageable.
On the return trip I disembarked at King Street in Alexandria, Virginia’s, Old Town, and walked down the twenty brick-sidewalked gas lighted blocks to the now thoroughly yuppiefied banks of the Potomac. (Back in the day —and I mean really back in the day, circa mid 18th century, Alexandria was the fourth busiest port in the American colonies.)
The weather finally decided to give us humans a break, and although the day was decidedly brisk it was satisfyingly sunny. If one had layered wisely and kept moving, keeping warm was no problem.
But there was also a human warmth factor: The crowds in both towns on both walks were almost (and in some cases, positively) radiating.
There was a feeling, a spirit, a sentiment, that was indefinable but undeniable.
The cynics will say that you find what you look for, and the cynics won’t necessarily be wrong. But, even so, objectively, it was there. Eppur si muove.
There is an animation, an excitement, an anticipation, going around these days that is more than just palpable. It’s contagious.
We appear to be embarked —ironically, because it’s hard to imagine darker days than these for our poor beleagured nation— on an Era of Feeling Good.
Some of it, of course, is just simple relief at the prospect of change. When things are as bad as they are, the atavistic fear that change could be for the worse is replaced by an almost talismanic faith that change will be for the better.
Whatever people feel about President Bush’s policies, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling that he has met even the minimal criteria for demonstrating leadership. By placing his legacy in the hands of history and withdrawing from the daily fray, he left his supporters high and the nation dry. In an age when the symbolic aspects of the Presidency are equally, if not more, important than its substantive components, Mr. Bush has been, for all intents and purposes, hors de combat.
Whatever people feel about President Elect Obama’s policies, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling that he hasn’t run a close to perfect campaign and transition, and that his natural eloquence and innate charm haven’t been impressive and even inspiring.
Those facts, plus the large numbers of people who either voted for him or for change of any kind, have resulted in this near-euphoria that adds up to this pre-Inaugural Era of Feeling Good.
Back in 1976, Bob Gardner wrote a campaign song for Gerald Ford in 1976 called “I’m Feeling Good About America.” Maybe it should be brushed off — just to see what justice Bono or Bruce or Beyonce could do to it.
I know it’s way too early to get carried away. It remains to be seen whether this Era of Feeling Good can or will continue after the oath has been administered, Oprah has packed up and gone home, the realities have reasserted themselves, and things are seen, once again, in the light of common day.
The Era of Good Feelings (1815-1825) lasted for a good decade after a dispiriting war was ended. It was launched by President Monroe’s good will visit to Boston in 1817, but it was occasioned by the decline of partisanship with the disappearance of the Federalist Party. It ended with the onset of a financial panic and the recurrence of slavery as a daily issue.
We shall have to wait to see if this current Era of Feeling Good has even a half life beyond the Inauguration, or if it is no more than a blip on the screen, a passing fancy, just one brief shining moment.
(The cartoon above, by Mike Peters, was published on Election Day; it, along with his daily editorial output and some of the many other aspects of his protean talent, can be found on his comprehensive and entertaining website.)