Sunday, February 24, 2008


A few weeks back I was taking my bright, beautiful and sweet 15-year-old to her small high school at the Seattle Center. Barack Obama was going to speak later that day in the nearby Key Arena and already early in the morning there were long lines in front of all the numerous entrances. Clearly something out-of-the-ordinary was taking place. It seemed to me that most of the people were young, an age group that has shown apathy in recent elections. The Center School decided to let as many students as possible to take part witnessing a democratic process in action and although they had to wait for hours to actually see and hear the candidate, it didn't in any way lessen the excitement. My little one was beaming after the day.

Mr. Obama handily won the Democratic primary here, and has since won state after state. Something is happening: people clearly want to see someone new and young offered a chance. The nightmare of the past seven years has taught people to mistrust people who have been corrupted by politics of our capital. Hillary Clinton is a very smart lady who would no doubt work hard to make the miracle of a national health insurance a reality, and I am by no means endorsing one Democratic candidate over the other. She unfortunately has a lot of baggage with her, at least in many people's eyes, mainly because she occupied the White House for eight years already. Elsewhere in the world where former presidents' wives have successfully run for the same office, results have been often disappointing. However, part of me would love to see a woman win the election, but if the winner ends up being a minority member, something unthinkable just a few years ago, I won't have a problem either.

As it was with John F Kennedy, youth creates excitement, especially among people who are close to that age group. Any person in a leadership position should not overstay his or her welcome, whether in politics, sports, arts, you name it. Thank goodness a president is only able to run twice for the office. The congress, however, is filled with old-timers who have made politics their profession. Some are doing a very good job, some others stink. Everybody is more or less predictable and therein lays the problem. There is little new to offer as the thinking goes its set ways, and all members of the Congress are all too eager to listen to special interests groups, as the financing for the next election depends on them to a great degree. Wouldn't it feel different if we set similar term limits to the Senators and House Representatives as to the Executive Branch? Perhaps we could give them an extra four-year term making it a total of three.

We all know how terrible it is when someone in a leadership position holds onto power too long. Our world is full of dictators who get 'elected' time after time. Constitutions are changed so that term limits are no longer an issue. Even in my native Finland which gives the President a maximum of twelve years, an exception was made for the Kremlin's favorite Urho Kekkonen. After his two terms were up, a new law was passed to make it possible for him to be elected a third time. What remains a mystery to me forever, after the third time the country's parliament decided that now he was a "new candidate" and thus successfully ran for a fourth term. All this happened in a country that prides itself as the least corrupt on the globe, twenty years later. Finally senility and dementia set it and as Kekkonen didn't have his Nancy Reagan to run the country, he had to resign. In Reagan's case (who many think was a great president), astrologists were contacted by Mrs. Reagan for advice while the old man hardly knew what was happening around him. After the Soviet Union collapsed and the archives were made public, people were shocked (or were they really?) to find out that Kekkonen had in fact been a high-ranking informant to the KGB.

The one area where a person's influence can remain productive is in teaching. Our neighborhood elementary school had a legendary teacher, Richard Kearns, who left incredibly lasting memories in students' minds. Our Anna was in his third grade class and that is when she opened up and decided to become something important herself. I have met Seattleites on international flights and, more than once, I have been asked if I knew Mr. Kearns. Of the school's teachers, he was the only one to stay in people's minds; a wonderful person who managed to turn many young lives around and make the kids become serious students. My daughter and her several classmates used to visit him at the school often, until he finally retired after many decades of making a difference in young people. Even in a university setting, the most a student will have to deal with a professor is a few years. A conductor of a youth orchestra will have new faces every year and the older ones graduate and move on. Of my many students who have chosen music as their field, I always insist that they leave the nest and move on. To my college students I am a fresh new face, with a different approach and after the four years they will be going elsewhere. That is how it should be. A podium or a position as a coach for a sports team should not be for retirement, unless it is in a university or other school were nobody will have to suffer past four years or so.

It will be an interesting and important year for Americans. Any change will be good as things cannot get much worse. An in-law, a retired professor of Economics from Rutgers University, says he has never seen things as bad as they are now. Although Seattle housing market isn't suffering like many others, there are properties in my very own neighborhood that have remained on the market for a long time. Of course, the uneducated masses don't really care about the war, exploding prison population, and in many cases about the lack of health insurance, as long as they are covered. It is the price of gasoline and food that will grab their attention, and I bet you anything these people are finally waking up and fast.