On Wednesday morning, before Matt Baker and I drove back to Galesburg after our time in Chicago at the Obama rally, we went out to breakfast at a diner on Lincoln and Southport where I enjoy the status of ‘regular.’ The place is called Sam and George’s: the current owner, John, is Sam’s nephew and George’s son. His voice is loud and booming, he speaks Greek to the waitresses, and he yells “howyadoin!” at everyone when they come in for their eggs and coffee.
On this particular morning, John didn’t look as happy as usual. I grabbed a Chicago Tribune off the counter in front and read it while I waited for my skillet, making giddy little noises and grinning. At the other end of the room, John was grousing to a guy eating an omelet about the election.
“I just wanna know who’s gonna take more of my money, him or the other guy,” he griped, loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear. “He made a lot of promises. I just hope he can keep them.” His facial expression made it clear that he didn’t think Obama would put his money where his mouth was.
I sat eavesdropping and feeling a little sorry for John, who I imagine was in for a long day of arguments with ecstatic Obama-loving customers. John represents a sort of person the McCain campaign tried and failed to cleave to them: he’s John the Diner Guy, small business owner and taxpayer, urban cousin of Joe the Plumber. He puttered around behind the counter, wiping up spills and shaking his head.
As I was jellying my toast, a dirty man in ragged clothes came in, said something I couldn’t make out, and held out a couple of greasy-looking dollars to John behind the cash register.
“Hey, put your money away, man,” he boomed. “Lemme buy you a soup.”
Maybe it’s naïve of me to think that Democrats and Republicans can reach some sort of middle ground on the fundamental things that divide us, like taxes, but if the time is ever to come, I believe it will come now, during the Obama administration. John may be one of those “real Americans” who hate the fiscal and social policies of the “tax-and-spend” liberal set, but his offer to buy a bowl of soup a homeless man was a miniaturized version of the social programs Democrats get so much guff for supporting.
It is our hope that Barack Obama will remind people that “Democrat” and “Republican” don’t have to be such consuming labels. Ideally, taxes are more than just The Man reaching into your wallet and buying himself fancy presents (except for certain Alaska senators.) Obama was able to draw America together not just by the considerable force of his charisma and his message but also because America is desperate for a change, desperate enough to reach across the aisle. It is our hope that American citizens will ride the wave of unity Obama has started into each other’s living rooms to talk about how we aren’t so different after all. A bowl of soup may be a more direct gesture than comprehensive welfare reform, but we hope Obama’s administration will remind us that we can use taxes and the government to help people, not hurt them, as it has for the past eight years. This could truly mark a new era in world history, and we consider ourselves privileged to have seen it begin.