05 November 2008

Oh yes we did!

There is so much to be said about yesterday's landslide election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States of America. Other journalists and pundits and bloggers will have much to digest. I want to give some of my own personal reflections.

First, about me. I grew up in the rural South (a county that went approximately 60-40 for John McCain this year). There were two elementary schools, one all white and the other all black. The first African-American student, Max Black (I still remember his name), came to our all-white school when we were in the third grade. At the time I did not understand the stir his presence caused. I tried to make friends with him. I didn't really see the difference. I was naive. In that community many of the blacks had the same last names as many of the white families. For those of you not from that region, that could mean one of two things: at some point in the 19th Century the white family owned the black family and, upon Emancipation, the black family took on the name of their owner because they either had no historical memory of their original African family name or because they had a 'familial' relationship with their owner—that is to say, they were his bastard children. Fact of life in the American South. Often, too, you could see family resemblances across the races which implicated the latter explanation. (I used this as a motif for my protagonist's coming-of-age in my (still unpublished) novel EULOGY.) Blacks and whites were not allowed to swim in the same swimming pools. Blacks had to sit in the balcony at the only movie theater in the nearby town, using a side entrance.

With the Civil Rights Act of 1964, things changed. My father, a Baptist minister, in what was a heroic move, exchanged pulpits with the pastor of the nearby black church one Sunday. Shortly thereafter, we had a cross burned on our front lawn. Still, to his enduring credit, he made it an annual affair. Once the two separate schools were finally merged, there was a surreptitious Klan rally on the ballground of the school and another cross was burned. There was an atmosphere of anonymous malevolence, spite, disgust, resentment surrounding me in my youth. That's my story. To live to see the election of an African-American as President in my lifetime seems an unfathomable amount of change. I believe there is still racial hatred in pockets of this country—not just the rural South, mind you. My moderate friends and family who either support Obama or oppose him on policy grounds all say they worry that someone will try to assassinate him. Many pray it won't happen. Those fears and hates are deep-seated and not easily eradicated. Still, I believe Obama's election is an enormous step in healing over those primitive feelings.

Some have said that slavery is America's original sin. This makes some sense. It was prevalent in the colonies, engrained in the Constitution of 1789, and continued as an institution until the 1860's. In the South, the rifts from the Civil War persisted throughout most of the 20th Century. In my own lifetime, I've known children of both slaves and slave owners (including, sad to say, my own great-grandmother). These rifts help explain much of the hatred and resentment that characterized the South of my youth. In this sense, Barack Obama's election may actually signal the beginning of the end of the American Civil War, the beginning of the healing of these tremendous fault lines in American culture. Here is the slogan which got to me:
Rosa sat, so Martin could march, so Obama could run, so our children can fly!

But that is all history and symbolism. Important, yes. But not determinative. I actively and vigorously supported Barack Obama for President, but not for the reasons above. Perhaps the most profound line in the most profound speech I heard in my lifetime was this: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." That is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" 1963 speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I couldn't agree more whole-heartedly. It was his mind and the content of Obama's character, not the color of his skin, that won my vote.

He is not a dauphin, a son of privilege—either the admiralty or governmental and moneyed elite. He got where he is on merit. I was an editor of my law review (though not its president) and I know how tough and competitive that position is, especially at Harvard. He is smarter than I am and I am sick and tired of having a dolt for a president. I want someone who is curious, interested, and smart and confident enough to know what he doesn't know and seek input from a diversity of advisers, not yes-men—a problem solver. Obama seems even-keeled and exudes an air of calm, quiet confidence. He seems to be emotionally stable, in command of both his campaign and himself. He doesn't seem particularly truculent. His actions appear to be rational and well-considered—he is not a shoot-from-the-hip, cowboy, rogue maverick. He does not seem to be defensive or paranoid. He does not seem antagonistic to the American people or its press. In fact, quite the opposite, he appears to be responsive to the wishes of the country. He does not seem to be afraid to speak the truth, to communicate, to identify problems and openly propose solutions. He seems to understand complexity and to have the sort of analytical mind it takes to sort things out. He seems to be rational and realistic, to understand cause-and-effect, and his policies seem to offer direct and practical solutions to specific identifiable problems. He does not appear to be in the thrall of an ideology that colors his motives and policies and actions. He does not seem to be afraid of details. He knows how to use the English language. He is not jingoistic.

Our country and, indeed, our world are in a mess. It's going to take some brains to sort it out. I believe Barack Obama is the right man at the right time.

Oh and also too by the way, how must it feel to be a Republican this morning? According to them, Obama is completely inexperienced. He is the "most liberal Senator" in the United States. He even consistently votes to the left of an avowed Socialist. In fact, he is a Socialist, probably a Marxist and a Communist. He wants to redistribute the wealth. He's going to raise everybody's taxes. He is a secret Muslim who pals around with terrorists and like the Manchurian candidate part of a secret cell of terrorists who plan to destroy this country. He and his wife are un-American and they hate everything America stands for. He has so many unsavory and radical associations. He doesn't support our troops. He wants to surrender. He will negotiate with tyrants without pre-conditions or preparation. He can't be trusted. And guess what? He still drubbed them. How must it feel to lose so badly and thoroughly to such a heinous candidate? This can't be good for their self-esteem. But this raises the question: does he have a mandate to destroy capitalism and implement the socialist agenda? According to Republican rhetoric, apparently he does.

One last point re: Sarah Palin in 2012. Sarah Palin will never be president—in 2012 or ever. Mark my words. There are too many big boys lying in the tall grass waiting their chance. To name two: Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. They will take her down before they take on each other. And as I often counsel my friends, never get in the middle of an elephant-f*ck.

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