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Post-election hope

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Sunday, November 9, 2008

And here we are. Our first full cam-painless week in two years. The rhetoric of change from both campaigns and the crisis we now find ourselves in as a nation and as a world now rest heavily upon our shoulders; there’s no national competition to distract us any longer. Welcome to Reality. Gray and sobering.This immediate shift kind of bothers me. Not the call to accept reality itself, but rather the tone of it. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!” (Thanks, Dad), or the Austrian, “Der Ton macht die Musik” (the tone makes the music). I am unfortunately not in America to see the reaction first hand, so I’ve been relying on word of mouth and online newspapers. Thank goodness for the Internet. What I have found here, in any case, is that everyone felt the hope and optimism that Barack Obama seemed to radiate during the election. And I mean radiated – I don’t know why we’re concerned about using nuclear energy when we get so much radiation from our presidential candidates. But anyways, now that the anticipation is over and Europe is no longer praying for our eternal souls, it has become fashionable here – in the course of not days, but hours – to question the capability of anyone to turn America around, and to resort to a pessimism that this election did so much to combat.Once again, maybe the feelings are different at home. But there seems to be a similar despair, a rhetorically-inspired “this is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” By no means am I trying to repudiate this statement. To describe our situation in the oh-so-graceful formation of words in American English that no other language can quite duplicate, this really sucks.It does. But as the rhetoric during the election reminded us, we have so much for which to hope, to be thankful. While other nations are facing starvation, epidemics and wars in the face of the food crisis, the oil crisis, the financial crisis, the global warming crisis, we are in dire straits because we are now forced to reexamine our excessive lifestyles. We literally have the breathing room to revise our way of life instead of facing the endangerment of life itself.Our sheer amount of natural resources has historically catapulted us to our current prominence and will continue to do so. We aren’t even close to worrying whether we will have enough food to feed our population for the next five, 10, 20 years. Rather, we are worried about how much money the government gives out to farmers (who don’t make any money because we as a “free market” decided that food is not as important a product as, say, entertainment technology), or whether or not we use our food supply for energy that only indirectly supports human life.We import food from thousands of miles away because it tastes good and it fulfills our wants. Despite this, we have some of the best farmland in the world, upon which we prefer to build subdivisions. Our nation is so large that if global warming begins to devastatingly disrupt climate patterns, the climate changes will shift agricultural zones, rather than annihilating them.We look past the essentials to that which we feel we can achieve by earning. According to the American Dream, homeownership is a direct result of hard work and good values. Does that mean that families who live in apartments have somehow failed? Homeownership in Austria is slightly over 50 percent and in Germany around 40 percent, while in America it hovers just below 70 percent. Europe is a first world country with an incredibly stable economic system. More than that, people here are still happy. Families live in apartments their entire lives, children grow up playing at the park instead of the backyard. If that’s really what we have before us to “fear,” can’t we just as well make our dreams less rigid to cope with changes?The financial crisis is undoubtedly hitting us hard. Our dreams are blurry, many families are scraping by and the giant businesses that stabilize our economy are going down in record numbers. However, we are all still here. We have our lives. We have our families, our medicinal and technological advancements, comforts that so many people in the world will never know. Before resorting to seeing our situation pessimistically, think about the room we have to maneuver. The turns might be sharp, the drop-off steep, but the road we are on continues, paved and accommodating.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a junior German and History Major and is currently studying abroad in Innsbruck, Austria. She hopes one of Barack Obama’s first actions in office (or on the court) will be taking the advice of the most famous Austrian-American and doing something about those “skinny legs.” She can be contacted at jmirando@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer