Friday, November 07, 2008

Two views of the present reality 

I was so confident that Obama had the votes to win, and so afraid of the consequences of a theft or some other aberration, that my reaction to his great victory on election night was primarily a sense of relief, of catastrophe averted. I therefore was less focused on the larger historical significance of the win -- though that began to sink in when I saw the interview with John Lewis and saw Jesse Jackson (who was next to MLK when he was shot) breaking down in tears.

A lot had to be happening -- a lot besides the Bush meltdown -- for this election to have occurred: demographic changes, cultural changes, political changes within the parties, and the appearance of a truly skilled candidate who may turn out to be a real leader. On the other hand, the role of the Bush meltdown shouldn't be underestimated.

With these issues in mind, here are two assessments of the victory, first from William Greider, the economics reporter, who is certainly capable of bitter cynicism; second, from the Onion.

President Obama: This Proud Moment

We are inheritors of this momentous victory, but it was not ours. The laurels properly belong to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the other martyrs who died for civil rights. And to millions more before them who struggled across centuries and fell short of winning their freedom. And to those rare politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson, who stood up bravely in a decisive time, knowing how much it would cost his political party for years to come. We owe all of them for this moment.

Whatever happens next, Barack Obama has already changed this nation profoundly. Like King before him, the man is a great and brave teacher. Obama developed out of his life experiences a different understanding of the country, and he had the courage to run for president by offering this vision. For many Americans, it seemed too much to believe, yet he turned out to be right about us. Against all odds, he persuaded a majority of Americans to believe in their own better natures and, by electing him, the people helped make it true. There is mysterious music in democracy when people decide to believe in themselves.

Waiting for the results, we all felt nagging tension, even when we were fairly sure of the outcome. I heard from a newspaper friend, a wise old reporter who never gave in to Washington cynicism. "This election eve night," he wrote, "I feel myself tingling about the prospect of a nation which used to lynch blacks during my lifetime electing a black man president. I so hope it happens, believe it would electrify the world. I think he is the bravest man in the world, perhaps the most foolish one as well.... I worry about him like a Jewish mama."

We heard from another family friend, an African-American woman who teaches law in North Carolina. She reported weeping involuntarily when she saw Obama's picture. Did she know why? She said she saw her adolescent son's face in Obama's. Great moments in history give emotional definition to our lives and we carry those feelings forward with us, our own private meaning of events.

In this way, Obama redefined the country for us, but our responses involved generational differences. For younger people, white and black, his vision seemed entirely straightforward. It is the country they already know, and they expressed great enthusiasm. Finally, they said, a politician who recognizes the racial differences that are part of their lives and no big deal. For young blacks and other minorities, Obama's place at the pinnacle of official power lifts a coarse cloak that has blanketed their lives and dreams--the stultifying burden of being judged, whether they succeed or fail, on the basis of their race.

For others of us at an advanced age, Obama's success is more shocking. We can see it as a monumental rebuke to tragic history--the ultimate defeat of "white supremacy." That vile phrase was embedded in American society (even the Constitution) from the outset and still in common usage when some of us were young. Now it is officially obsolete. Racism will not disappear entirely, but the Republican "Southern strategy" that marketed racism has been smashed. Americans will now be able to see themselves differently, North and South, white and black. The changes will spread through American life in ways we cannot yet fully imagine. Let us congratulate ourselves on being alive at such a promising moment.


Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress

WASHINGTON — After emerging victorious from one of the most pivotal elections in history, president-elect Barack Obama will assume the role of commander in chief on Jan. 20, shattering a racial barrier the United States is, at long last, shitty enough to overcome.

Faced with losing everything, Americans took a long overdue step forward and elected Barack Obama. Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.

"Today the American people have made their voices heard, and they have said, 'Things are finally as terrible as we're willing to tolerate," said Obama, addressing a crowd of unemployed, uninsured, and debt-ridden supporters. "To elect a black man, in this country, and at this time—these last eight years must have really broken you."

Added Obama, "It's a great day for our nation."

Carrying a majority of the popular vote, Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Another contributing factor to Obama's victory, political experts said, may have been the growing number of Americans who, faced with the complete collapse of their country, were at last able to abandon their preconceptions and cast their vote for a progressive African-American.

After enduring eight years of near constant trauma, the United States is, at long last, ready for equality. Citizens with eyes, ears, and the ability to wake up and realize what truly matters in the end are also believed to have played a crucial role in Tuesday's election... More.

Thoughts about the juxtaposition of these two articles?


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