The small steps that lead to giant leaps for humankind are usually not recognized as such when

they are taken. They may require some time for discovery, or processing, or convincing. They may be small occurrences that pass by, hardly noticed, or big events that are celebrated, but for small reasons. Despite the deep-seated fears that are being played upon by forces that have a vested interest in preventing humanity's progress toward creating a more tolerant and just society, and despite the woeful cries of those who bemoan the slow pace of such progress, I believe that this health care reform represents one of these unrecognized small steps. It is Rosa Parks, refusing to sit at the back of the bus - an unremarkable event that followed several other such acts of resistance to racial segregation, except that Ms. Parks was already part of a larger movement that was peacefully pushing for progressive change. The other persons on the bus that day could not have known of the potential that her small act of tired defiance held, but Rosa Parks did. She intuitively felt the spark that lit the fire that was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which inspired U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. to call for a movement of "Massive Resistance," which was met by the Southern Manifesto, which was followed by Browder v. Gayle, the civil action law suit that outlawed racial segregation on buses within each state under the Fourteenth Amendment "equal protection of the laws," which lead to sniping and bombings of Martin Luther King Jr.'s and other civil rights leaders' homes and churches and the formation of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and on and on, back and forth, with the Freedom Riders testing the law on buses, lunch counter sit-ins, and other non-violent demonstrations against bigotry in the South, opposed by more lynchings, bombings, and defiance against the federal government, until the unified dignity of the civil rights movement won out over horrific images of police brutality and the news of little girls dying in their church finally ushering in a era of equal rights legislation and Supreme Court decisions that insisted upon the wholeness of racial integration. The health care reform is being celebrate as a political victory for President Obama and for the Democrats. It is possibly the most controversial issue the nation has faced in recent history, with opponents on the right furious that it has gone too far, while progressives are angry that it didn't go far enough. But despite all of the vicious politics surrounding it, the passage of this legislation is about something much bigger than all of that. At the same time, despite the monumental effort it took the Democrats to finally pass it, and the emotional fervor stirred up by the Republicans and their backers in the insurance industry in opposition to it, it is really rather less than all of that. This is only a small step forward, a tiny spark that helps to keep the flame of human progress alive, but its potential to set a new fire aglow must be properly understood if it is to spread to something far greater than the people on the proverbial bus could ever imagine. This potential lies in a serene place, away from all the rabble of misplaced anger and repressed entitlement on the one hand and disillusionment mixed with sadness about being so demonized on the other. It is the promise of patient, yet persistent change, the same promise that the election of this president represented, and it is a part of the same march forward that the civil rights movement was a part of, and the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the women's rights movement, and all other human rights movements that continue to push for the social evolution of our species. This change requires an elegant kind of thought process that is somewhat foreign to the either/or, absolutist mentality that seems to be encouraged by the culture of the United States today. This thinking tolerates the coexistence of what, on the surface, might appear to be conflicting ideas, so that ideology will give way to the flexibility that is necessary to get things done in society. It is the kind of thinking that is necessary for social change to take place, because its flexibility allows those who are trying to

introduce new ideas to do so in a way that assuages the fears of those who are resistant to change. It is incumbent upon progressives to be careful in our push for change, to show that we are not a threat to others in our quest to reform an unjust system. While we must stand by our ideals, we must also be able to recognize the limits of society's willingness to change and find creative ways to nudge at those limits. In the face of exasperating misinformation and mis-characterizations of our intentions, we must be content to take baby steps and let time be the messenger of the good news that social cooperation is actually less costly than separation and divisiveness. Such maturity of thought can recognize that individual liberty and social responsibility are interrelated; that democratic principles and social welfare policies are not mutually exclusive; that ownership of property and wealth is not equivalent to freedom; that tyranny and hidden taxes can be imposed by private institutions as well as by governments; that giving can be receiving and big can be small and patriotism can be other than the uncritical acceptance of a self-serving narrative. Such thinking makes sense out of the actions of a man who campaigned on the promise of "change," who was supported by progressives because he seemed to have literally come out of left field and was seen to be uncorrupted by the political process. He spoke of the civil rights struggle and the "end of small politics,"constantly drilling at his message of "change," which spoke to progressives as a change from the right to the left. It was a brilliant campaign slogan, a nebulous, open promise that could mean almost anything. And when things came down to the wire, voters who were offered two images of "change" chose the one that looked and sounded and acted the most like real change. But this change turned out to be less dramatic, less obvious, less palpable than we would have liked to see, and many progressives soon gave up on the new president, expressing the kind of dismay that Frank Rich and Micheal Moore and many other disillusioned supporters have expressed. But perhaps the president's apparent timidity to make big changes is not due to weakness, nor inexperience, nor naivety, nor crass political maneuvering, but instead comes from an insight that is difficult for all but those few who have faced the struggle to succeed in a covertly racist society can immediately comprehend. The man has spent his whole life honing his ability to convince others to overlook the color of his skin, his unconventional upbringing, and his unusual name to give him a chance to show what he is really made of. It has not only been his persuasiveness that has been most crucial to Barack Obama's success, but his ability to follow it through with action, intelligence, and by asserting himself in a measured and non-threatening way. This is a kind of progress that connects individual achievement with social responsibility, that works from the inside while never forgetting all those who remain on the outside, that understands that one must sometimes tack in one direction to create the headwind that will move them in another direction, that utilizes subtle, patient, and even controversial techniques to slowly soften hard-edged thought structures and create small but significant change. When we see the health care reform from a larger historic perspective, we can begin to understand how President Obama's actions mirror those of the man that he admires so much, Abraham Lincoln, and how the current situation mirrors the abolition of slavery. Lincoln ran for office as a vociferous opponent of slavery in the United States, and as soon as it became clear that he would soon become the President of the United States of America, the secessionists began to form the Confederacy. The attempts to find a compromise by President-elect Lincoln and outgoing President Buchanan that would convince the southern states to remain part of the Union could not go far, because the stance that one class of people had the right to enslave other human beings in the names of "heritage" and "freedom" and "states' rights" had become entrenched and non-negotiable. Lincoln pointed out during his inaugural address that the stated purpose of the U.S. Constitution was "to form a more perfect union,"

and offered up the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution that would have protected slavery in those states where it already existed in order to ensure that new territories would not become slave states. He was criticized by the Copperheads for not giving in on the issue of slavery and thus taking the nation into civil war, criticized by the abolitionists who felt that he was not doing enough to end slavery, and deeply despised by those who put their own desires above their allegiance to the principle of democracy as social progress toward becoming a better and stronger union. Lincoln could not prevent the Confederacy from being formed, but he refused to negotiate with Confederate agents and thus legitimize the Confederacy, and both the Union and the Confederacy danced around the issue of who would be the aggressor in the ensuing civil war, until Confederates in South Carolina, with the aim of claiming U.S. federal property, could not contain themselves any longer. Now, as then, it is not the proponents of progressive change who are causing the divisiveness that is tearing at the heart of the nation, rather, it is those who refuse to let go of an ideology that is, at its core, a claim of entitlement of the "haves" at the expense of the "have nots," the clamoring for the rights of corporations to enslave individuals in the names of "heritage" and "freedom" and "states' rights," that is dividing the nation. The passing of the health care reform legislation by the Democrats and the vow by the Republicans to use the dwindling resources of the states to fight against it is a huge political deal, as what will surely be torrid midterm elections approach, but it will only be a small chapter in the nation's history. Whatever increase in the level of anger and, as many are worried about, violence on the part of those on the right who see this as a major threat to their idea of what the nation is supposed to be about, will reveal the deeper core of this issue, that sense of entitlement that manifests itself as racism and sexism and homophobia and religious- or class-based exceptionalism when the veneer of civility is worn thin by fundamentalist populism, and it will all lead back to the 2008 elections that brought the Democrats into power in Congress and an unusual black man into the White House. But as the civil rights leaders who were brutally attacked by the police in Selma, Alabama know from experience, these kinds of outbreaks open up those people's eyes who want their nation to be a shining example of humanity's best character, who were previously unaware of the deep level of contempt for universal human dignity as well as for the federal government that underlies conservative ideology. The images pile on: Representative John Lewis, a long-time veteran of the civil rights struggle, and others on their way to vote for the legislation being spat upon; reports of death threats and brick throwing; Sarah Palin's goading of violence by presenting individuals in the cross hairs of a gun; President Bush wiping his hand on President Clinton's shirtsleeve after shaking a Haitian person's hand... These images speak far louder than any denials of reality can. And they present conservatives with the dilemma of looking at their own contradictions, because they can't have it both ways. They cannot label William Ayers as a terrorist and a traitor to the nation and at the same time hold up those who are willing to commit acts of violence against members of the government as patriots for a cause. I believe that most sympathizers of what William Ayers did thirty years ago have matured and now see the enormous error of trying to further a just cause through the instigation of violence. (To those who disagree with this conclusion, I would point out the fact that the radical elements of the anti-war movement in Berkeley were the original cause of the Reagan backlash against liberal ideologies that has persisted throughout these thirty years and remains as a bedrock of conservative thought structures today.) If it is democracy that is at stake, then non-democratic means cannot be the answer. If nationalism is the calling, then states' rights cannot trump federal law. If government is the problem, then making the government work better is the solution. Perhaps this rise in anger is a direction that President Obama foresaw, and chose to take on in order to

force the nation to deal with the polarization that has been increasing in recent years. Perhaps he knew that the level of contempt that so many would hold toward him is deeply rooted in our society, yet it is no match for the will for humanity to progress, with the weight of all of history behind it. Perhaps he understood the larger significance of his presidency, and saw the opportunity to use his skills as a real "uniter," taking on the dual role of president of all of the people of the United States and at the same time gently, patiently, through persuasion and follow through, inching the nation forward in its quest to be more perfect. And perhaps this is the answer to his non-involvement in the political struggles of the legislature on an issue that is so important to his presidency, as he was attempting to set the example of how a president should be everyone's president and not simply be the leader of one party. That the Democrats could not see the forest for the trees, having wasted an entire year being, themselves, too timid to come together and get this task completed was painful to observe. It took the president's final stepping in, convincing such actors on the far left as Dennis Kucinich that there was a larger cause at stake, then conceding to the antiabortion contingency on the right in a big way, thus providing the political party leadership that the Democrats are so desperately lacking. Of course, many concessions were made, from the very beginning, in order to get this legislation passed. That is why this is really just a small step forward. But the fact of its passage, no matter how watered down or what was necessary to secure it, is the spark that could lead to the fire that brings the United States to face its inner demons. The political victory is just a small reason to celebrate. The spark that has been lit lies in the potential to change the politics, themselves. President Obama will have learned from this experience, during which many have labeled his leadership as weak, wobbly, foggy, uninspiring... But he seems to have come to the realization that the nation was not ready for his attempt to be a national leader by distancing himself from the political ring or refusing to be a bully. He has been faced with the classic progressive dilemma of how to be ahead of the curve, yet be able to relate to the bulk of those who are following behind in a way that makes sense to them. Real leadership means that someone is ahead of the pack, leading the way, setting an example, not that someone is powerful because they are the most forceful or have hung around the longest, having amassed their power, essentially, by default. But the president may have just learned the difficult lesson that the entrenched political system in the United States only understands the language of force, and that changing this system will be a much longer-term project that will have to remain secondary to the project of ensuring that the Democrats can address the current economic situation in demonstrably effective ways while at the same time defending themselves with honor and finesse against the vengeance of the party that knows how to raise a rabble and manipulate the fears and emotions of their constituency to gain support for their causes. For their part, the Democrats could muster some finesse by looking at the larger significance of the health care reform not as a victory so much as the continuity of a long struggle for human rights. It follows the Constitutional mandate "to promote the general Welfare and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" by limiting the tyranny of the insurance companies that separates society into those who can afford health care and the astounding number of those who cannot, which weakens the nation's work force, and which imposes hidden costs on employers. Let us fan the flames of what has been sparked, that is, a movement that is willing to stand before the clamor of the fearful and the misguided, just as Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others bravely did, and insist that the country come together to reclaim our government so that it will work for the people instead of for the corporate financiers of all of the politicians. The next political battle will be over the ideology of deregulation, but to get at that issue we will need to force our representatives to take a long, hard look at the way that government works, focus on why it is so frustratingly inept and wasteful, and

figure out how to limit the corrupting influences of lobbying and campaign financing as a better fix than simply dismantling it. Today, health care - tomorrow, returning our democracy to its most basic principle of "government by the people." Now that would be one giant leap for humankind.