There are a great many reasons why I was downright jubilant back on Nov. 5 and have vacillated between unrestrained giddiness and a more appropriate middle-aged optimism ever since. Part of my exhilaration was the election of Barack Obama and the signal to the world that America’s moral compass is sound, after all. And, yes, it will be nice to know that for at least the next four years the White House will no longer be mired in the Love Canal of Verbal Gibberish.
But part of my excitement was simply relief that a campaign that began when trilobites were the lobsters of the seas and John and Cindy McCain owned merely a half-dozen cars was over. No more pandering, no more attack ads, no more fairy tale-like juxtaposition of the words “clean” and “coal.”
Nevertheless, here are two more words that we rarely heard spoken in the same sentence in the long campaign and that haven’t been linked with any frequency since it ended: “homeless” and “children.” In all the debates about whom to bail out (pre- and post-election), in all the discussions of recession and depression, Wall Street and Main Street, there hasn’t been a whole lot of focus on homelessness in America.
Even now if you visit the website for the Office of the President-Elect and search “homeless children” you won’t find them on the agenda. You will find a pledge to combat homelessness among our nation’s veterans, which I applaud. But just as we should judge ourselves by how we care for our sick and elderly, we should judge ourselves by how we embrace and lift up the poorest among us. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, 1.35 million children were homeless at some point this year; on any given night, at least 200,000 have no place to live.
Obama has monumental tasks before him. The truth is, we all do. We all must roll up our sleeves as we haven’t in generations. There probably hasn’t been a better time for us to add two more words – and one more task – to our agenda.
(This column originally appeared in the Boston Globe on December 31, 2008.)