Coming together: a nice idea…

About this vision thing. The Obamas and the Bidens attended a prayer service at the National Cathedral before the inauguration, at which there were mostly good wishes for national unity and progress.

But on PBS NewsHour that night one of the participants, the Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas had this to say:

“I wish he had done more to reach out. In fact, that was the point of my message today at the National Cathedral was to say, you know, we need a new American vision that’s not just Democratic or not just Republican.

“It has to be a new vision that brings people together. And if we had a vision with a couple of goals, key strategic goals that Republicans and Democrats have crafted together and say this is what we’re going to work together on over the next 10 years, even though we might disagree on a whole host of other things, it would have a huge impact on bringing Americans together.”

With all due respect to Rev. Hamilton, excuse me? Four years ago, following one of the most conciliatory inaugural addresses of all time, Mr. Obama’s repeated overtures were met with the stone wall of “Our #1 goal is to see that you are a one-term president.” Which translated into unyielding opposition and previously unmatched polarization.

It would be hard to find anyone in the U.S. who doesn’t want us to come together, or wouldn’t welcome a few “key strategic goals that Republicans and Democrats have crafted together.” But our President didn’t get a lot of help the first time around (remember Bowles-Simpson?)

So now reality has set in, expectations are lower and strategies a little less conciliatory — but Obama’s vision is still there.

A 3x2 stitched and HDR tone mapped image of th...
A 3×2 stitched and HDR tone mapped image of the sanctuary at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where there’s vision, there’s hope.

Big, fat (unfortunate) U.S. secret

You mean, in spite of everything we’ve heard, Obama actually DID GOOD? Amazing.

That’s what Michael Grunwald says in his book The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. He has meticulous, exhaustive data to back up his contention that the stimulus worked, a whole lot was accomplished, but nobody got the word out… and if he’s a voice crying in the wilderness about it at least his book is on the New York Times bestseller list (and in a recent, interesting editorial.)

Grunwald was at the Commonwealth Club a few nights ago, on a panel moderated by Climate One founder Greg Dalton and also including Managing Partner Nancy Pfund of DBL Investors. (Grunwald, in addition to his book-writing adventures, is Senior National Correspondent for Time Magazine.) The panel, titled the Green New Deal, was all about modernizing the electricity grid, cleaning up nuclear waste, improving energy efficiency here and there and saving clean tech jobs… just a few of the things Grunwald says we can thank the $800 billion stimulus bill for having accomplished.

Calling the stimulus “one of the most important and least understood pieces of legislation in the history of the country,” Grunwald says the bill that almost everyone loved to hate  actually “helped prevent a depression while jump-starting the president’s agenda for lasting change. As ambitious and far-reaching as FDR’s New Deal, the Recovery Act is a down payment on the nation’s economic and environmental future, the purest distillation of change in the Obama era.”

Who knew?

Screenshot of Recovery.gov, which went live af...

Homeless & still grinning

President Obama’s proposed budget for FY2011 includes a broad range of programs addressing homelessness, from provision of new services to the “Zero Tolerance” initiative for homeless veterans; I wish them all well. Aside from national efforts, most of us struggle with our personal relationship to the growing numbers of homeless citizens: Look the other way? Drop coins in cups? Buy snacks? Volunteer with the Food Bank? Most of us try to give something.

Occasionally, we get something more. This is such a story.

My friend Kevin left our neighborhood park in December, bound for Bakersfield in California’s central valley. “The Saint Vincent de Paul bought me a ticket,” he said. I worried about who would look after him. In our neighborhood he could sit in the sun and watch the birds on the lake, the joggers and strollers, and children on the playground. On rainy days he could sit on a corner bench inside the library. He never asked for money, but many of us gave him a dollar or two whenever we met. “Oh, I think he’ll be okay,” said one of the dog-walkers who is also among the Mountain Lake Park regulars. “He’ll find a meeting, and they’ll help him. He’s been doing really well with his drinking.”

Turns out it was not really Kevin I was worried about, but myself. Things were not the same. I would finish the hop kick on my loop around the parcourse fitness trail, and Kevin was supposed to be there. Instead, I would encounter an empty bench, or a disinterested stranger preoccupied with someone at the other end of a cell phone line. I missed the “How you doin’?” or the “Where you been ?! I ain’t seen you in a long time!” The occasional pause to sit beside him in the sun and pay attention to the feasts of nature everywhere.  Most of all I missed the wide, semi-toothless grin and the parting “Have a guht one!” that sent me brightly on toward the push-up bars just around the next bend in the trail. I was bereft.

Then a couple of weeks ago, headed from the chin-up station (I wish), I spotted a vaguely familiar figure walking slowly toward me. Decked out in a puffy new jacket (Kevin’s fashion tastes lean toward multiple bulky layers) and a new, bright blue cap, his beard somewhat trimmed, I did not recognize him until the great, toothless grin broke across his face. I ran down the trail, catching myself at the very last minute to restrain the hug I felt – this, I think, would’ve been too much for Kevin to handle – but grabbing both of his mittened hands.

“Kevin!” I said. “I thought you’d left us, gone off to Bakersfield forever!”

“Naw,” he said. “It’s too wahm in Bakersfield.”

So there it was. We were redeemed by the perpetually mild weather of the San Francisco Bay, where it seldom gets too warm and on rainy days one can find refuge in the library.

Did he have a good time in Bakersfield? “Oh, yes.” Did he get to see family? “Mmm.”

I still don’t know all the answers, or whether one day I’ll get to the hop kick station and find him gone again, for good.

What I do know is that for now the universe is proceeding as it should. And that one man with seemingly nothing to celebrate has brought the spirit of celebration back to Mountain Lake Park. It’s a great gift.