Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
So wrote Alfred, Lord Tennyson, one hundred and sixty years ago, as the 1840s gave way to the 1850s.
New Year’s Day has always been regarded as a moment of transition.
And a New Year’s Day that marks the close of one decade and the opening of another – as by many measures this one does – always seems to matter a little more.
So, yes, let us ring out the false. No decade was more characterized by falsehood, deception, spin, moral relativity and the evilest of all lies — compromise — than the 2000s, a decade that began with the selection of George Bush as president. Then came the structuring of U.S. economic policies to redistribute wealth upward, the false bubbles, the Enron cover-ups, the undeclared and unnecessary wars, the denials of ecological and social realities and finally the bank bailout, factory closings and double-digit unemployment.
It would have been nice to say that the 2000s ended a little early, with the replacement on January 20, 2009, of George Bush with Barack Obama.
Unfortunately, Obama has yet to “ring in the true.”
Yes, of course, he’s better than Bush.
Goodness, Bush’s dad was better than Bush. Reagan was better than Bush. Nixon was better than Bush. That’s not the point.
The point is to be dramatically better than Bush, dramatically better than all the falsehoods associated with his name.
The disappointment so many Americans feel with regard to Obama’s presidency has everything to do with his failure to make a big enough break with Bush and Bushism. But one year does not make a presidency, and Obama can still be the “transformational president”his country so demands. He need only recognize the full requirement of such a presidency. Tennyson points the way.
Ringing in the true is not about putting a better person in charge.
Ringing in the true is about putting better policies – fundamentally, unquestionably better policies – in place.
American does not need a health-care compromise. American needs single-payer health care and Medicare for all.
America does not need rhetoric about civil liberties, talk about closing Gitmo and tinkering around the edges of the Patriot Act. America needs a renewal of our commitment to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
America does not need a better-managed occupation of Afghanistan, America needs to stop trying to be the British empire of the 21st century.
America does not need bank bailouts and free-trade fantasies. America needs to tip the balance away from Wall Street and back toward Main Street.
America does not need to wait for word from Copenhagen – or Beijing. America needs to join the enlightened nations of the world in responding to the proven threats posed by climate change and environmental degeneration.
Ring out the false! Yes, indeed, that’s necessary.
But that is not enough.
It is time to ring in the new. It is time to end the 2000s, to put that miserable decade behind us, and to realize the promise of the American experiment that George Bush put on hold – and of an American dream too long deferred.