ARCHIVES: It’s everything; it’s no big thing … and now what?

This pre-Franorama World post is from my MySpace blog Nov. 5, 2008, 8:36 a.m. PST — the morning after Barack Obama’s election:

(Disclaimer: My opinions are mine alone and not any reflection of any friends, relatives, enemies or employers past or present, except by sheer coincidence.)

I was born two months to the day before Barack Obama. Albeit through quite different (and quite unique) lenses, he’s pretty much seen the same American history I have — the space race, Nam, MLK, RFK, Nixon, the Carter malaise, the Reagan Revolution, Iraq, the Clinton legacy that could have been, the radical “religious” “right,” 9/11, Iraq, the ravages of the Bushes and Cheney and their pals, racial equality, gender equality, sexual preference equality, the decline of our economy and our place in the world.

And probably like Obama, I’ve spent my entire adult voting life forced to choose the lesser of two evils rather than the best person for the job. And I’ll be the first to admit that I was not thrilled with the prospect of having to vote for him in the primary. He seemed too slick, and we remember all too well the last slick Democrat to become president. (I still insist calling Clinton a “liberal” is a stretch.)

His health care proposals were shaky at best, Republican at worst, and, post-primary, his waffling on the FISA bill over the summer deeply troubled me. California allows independents such as me to vote in the primary of my choice, and again in June I was forced to choose the lesser of evils: a contest between two senators for the right to do battle with another senator — all the while Chuck D blaring in my ears “Corrupt as a senator!” and the voice in my head telling many of my friends, “300 million people and this is the best we can do?” So again, I was forced to hold my nose as I voted for Obama.

Like Obama, I remember the enthusiasm surrounding the last presidential election before we were eligible to vote — the ascension of Jimmy Carter and the brief period of bliss when we thought the gust of a new and positive and different era was about to take hold. Carter might be one of the most decent men to have ever held the office, but we all know he sure as hell wasn’t a great president. So in spite of what I’ve been seeing the past three months, I’ve withheld any sense of optimism about the election, even though Obama started pulling ahead in the polls.

However, over the past three months, I did begin to see a man who actually might not merely be the lesser of two evils, but maybe, just maybe — finally, for the first time in my 47 years — the right person for the job. A man who took all the shit and the mud that the once-righteous McCain and that yahoo from Moosedung, Alaska, flung at him, let it slide off him like a true Teflon president and flicked it back like a quick wrist pass on a break.

And he was not only unflappable, but could speak wisely and intelligently without a cue card. (Granted, eight years of a mentally deficient chimp lowered the bar to historic lows, but Obama still did the high jump as if the bar were at 8 feet.) And he really seemed to care on some level. I couldn’t give a fuck if I couldn’t have a beer or at least a cup of coffee with him (and truth is, none of us were gonna have a beer with Shrub, either; it was just an illusion) — I just needed to know he was someone who got it, and cared enough to take on the problems Cheneybush dug us into, and that if he couldn’t do it himself, he might get the best people available to help him do it, regardless of party affiliation. And as the campaign drew closer to tonight, the more I felt that maybe he’d be able to do something to move the country back to the greatness everyone expects.

And at 8 tonight, when the polls here closed — and Charlie Gibson announced in the other room that California was projected for Obama, and “Barack Obama will be elected the 44th president of the United States. Barack Obama has been elected president” — all I could do was smile, and all I could say was “Fucking cool!”

Just how fucking cool is that?
If the world were the Dow Jones, America’s stock would’ve risen about 4,000 points tonight. We showed we aren’t just a nation of apathetic idiots, glued to our video games and NFL and NASCAR. (Well, most of us, anyway …)

It might have taken a frighteningly shitty economy for some of us to make our decisions at the polls (and I’m not totally sure someone didn’t pull some economic strings behind the scenes), but the fact is, we did it. I mean, 140 million people turned out in a country of 305 million! Granted, I feel this should be the case with every presidential election — voting is a privilege that should never be wasted — but it finally happened. And the world was watching intently. And generally approvingly.

And, oh yeah, he’s black. Or half-black, half-white. Whatfuckingever …

Of course he made history. We made history. I didn’t stick around for Obama’s speech, but I did see the joy and tears in the faces of so many black Americans and I welled up myself. (Still do.) And I saw the tears in Jesse Jackson’s eyes on the replay from the victory speech in Chicago. And even though this is the guy who confided in private/public that he wanted to cut Obama’s balls off — and thus effectively cut himself off of the national stage — I don’t think there was any phoniness in the tears that puffed his eyes. This wasn’t the bloated, tired, pompous, self-important celebrity — it was the Jackson who had been on the balcony with King when he died, the Jackson who, like many people in America, struggled long and hard for civil rights and never thought he’d see this night.

He did. We did.

But you know the coolest thing about this fucking cool night?

It’s this: In the overwhelming face of history, this is a 10-bell major event — one of the most momentous, historic nights in the history of the republic. But in the here and now, it’s no big thing.

I mean that in the sense that I didn’t give a flying fuck that Obama was African, and wouldn’t have cared if he were French or Chinese or Martian. (If he were Klingon, maybe I’d worry …) And while he certainly carried much of the black vote, I don’t think most of the rest of us who voted for him cared about the pigment of his skin, either. It’s no big thing for those of us — my generation and especially younger generations — who grew up in the King dream of the day when little black boys and little black girls would play alongside little white boys and little white girls. He’s black — big fucking deal. Is he good? That’s all I cared about, and I’m sure that’s what most voters thought about.

THAT, friends, is progress. And that allows us to finally turn this page on the 8,000,000-pound elephant in the room of social discourse.

And so, now what?

Now the party’s over and the hangover kicks in, followed by that long drive home with a raging headache.

I hope the famous American collective short memory doesn’t kick in this time. The man I hope to be proud to call President Obama is gonna need some time to turn things around — and he’s gonna need our patience. And our help.

If you know your history, you know Franklin Roosevelt needed most of two terms to upright our country after the ruin of the Depression. But would he have been able to do it if he had to face the glare of a feed-me 24-hour news cycle? Luckily for us, we’re not in a depression at the moment, but the immediacy of TV, of computers, of craving the latest information, of wanting everything last week, if not sooner — has conditioned us to be a bunch of spoiled, impatient, petulant kids. We can’t be these spoiled brats. Playtime is over.

Cheneybush didn’t dig this strip-mine of a hole all at once; this was eight years of wanton destruction. And I fear Obama and his people will find the damage is much, much worse than we know. He needs time and help to turn this around — the economy, our foreign policy, the military, the energy problem, the environment, everything. And we can’t sit passively by and expect him to do it all himself.

Anyway, one historic night could be the springboard to four (or eight) historic years if we want it badly enough and are willing to do what it takes to make it work. I never use honorifics with people my age, but I do feel there’s at least a good chance that one day I’ll be proud to call Barack Obama “Mr. President.” So help us God …

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