The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I Want The West Wing; Not The Same Old Thing
Richmond's Obamagasm --- But what if none of this matters?

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and even Ralph Nader were in the 804
this past weekend. [Image via Reuters and the Spiegel Magazine site.]

Barack, HillnBill, all this and Chinese New Year's, too.

This was one of those moments when Richmond appeared to be in the middle of something Important. The Jefferson Jackson event (that's as in past presidents Thomas and Andrew, not Jefferson Davis or "Stonewall" Jackson) at the Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center on Saturday night brought to the podium Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Hussein Obama.

I've been so caught up in rummaging about in events of 1909 that I didn't realize that we groundlings could've paid $35 and heard them both speak. The seats were in the rafters, but that would've been OK to get a glimpse at History In The Making.

Meanwhile, there was a tangential connection to this political season's visitation to Broad Street. Both camps had sought venues within walking distance of the speechifying. The Obama contingent set up a big screen TV to track the primary action, and the JJ dinner. They were smart to also feature the rollicking No BS Brass Band and the toe-tapping wayback-stylings of a group whose name I couldn't ever get straight-- Above Depression or Beyond Depression -- fronted by the wonderful Margaret Fleischman.

Unbeknownst to me, Bill Clinton spoke for about 45 minutes down at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. I was aware, however, that Hillary had chosen to use the Firehouse for a gathering with about 50 supporters. Carol Piersol, with whom I co-founded the place with three others 15 years ago, called at work on Friday to give me the news. Would I be interested in coming down Saturday afternoon to hang some of our framed pictures for the sake of appearances?

But our indispensable Melissa G. got to business right away; put together gift bags and contacted installation/sculptor artist David Turner to install his show that's supposed to go up for Henry Moss. Tad Burrell and Stephen Harris assisted in getting the place straightened up; Saturday afternoon I picked up debris of various kinds in the less than pristine rear parking courtyard behind the Firehouse. Hillary was getting brought in from the alley.

The security people wanted minimal staff, meaning Carol got to meet Hillary, and me and Amie couldn't, nor, to be honest, could any other members of the Firehouse organization. This wasn't a social occasion for HRC, but a business one. She needed to make a sales pitch to these people.

When returning home from my little effort at the Firehouse I came upon a friend stopped in his old Alfa Romeo at an intersection. The day was pristine and perfect for riding around in a convertible sports car, and he gave me a lift. I burbled about my Hillary news and this good man, an self-employed business person who operates a garage that specializes in maintaining and repairing oddball and vintage automobiles, shook his head. Since John Edwards is out of the race, he doesn't know who he can vote for.

I have to agree with Bill Maher, too, that at their most recent debate, Obama and Hillary looked like a local television station's weekend news anchor duo.

One Firehouse comrade who ambled in after HRC's departure, whom we met on the sidewalk, kind of summed up the evening's mood. He glanced at the activity at The Camel. "I'd rather be here, anyway," he said, and gestured behind him, "That's the past, this is the future. And this demographic is a bit more to my liking." The Obamian United Colors of Benetton wasn't similar to the Firehouse gathering, reported our friend. They were ladies of a certain age, who were rallying around HRC's banner to prevent further drooping. "I didn't know there were that many wealthy Democratic women in Richmond," he said. "But I guess they came from all over the state."

We stood and watched Obama's speech broadcast on the large screen and this was quite enjoyable. Around me, all kinds of folks, their heads chin-raised to see, their expressions eager and energized, clung to his words. There was applause and cheering and chanting of "Yes we can!" Amie was impressed because of all these political speeches we've heard of late, Obama's was the only one in which art and music got a mention. Not just a passing nod, but given with a sense of importance to cultural fabric. So much is heard of statistics and wages earned and billions spent, so this was noticeable.

And as he spoke, the screen ticker announced that his campaign had on this day emerged victorious in Washington, Nebraska (!) and Louisiana. This generated greater excitement and no movie could've added such additional drama. But among the faifthful gathered came much furtive discussion about the numbers and meanings of "super delegates." The mandarin mystique of these greater-than-equal delegates is the embodiment of the many ways the Democrats manufacture to shoot themselves in the head as a party. And the existence of such creatures is about as undemocratic as you can get.

But speaking of the audacity of hope:
amid these Obama disciples I bumped into an old friend of mine, Jim, from the Richmond Review days, who wore with pride his Hillary Clinton button. He was circled by several women who were urging him to see the matter their way. This encounter exhibits the difficulty of being a Democrat this February; the supporters of one candidate don't want to disrespect the supporters of the other. So there are these urgent and for the most part good-natured conversations in which the subject comes around to: which of the two is better qualified to go at it against McCain, and with voting margins so narrow in many national contests?

I think Jim is a contrarian, though he claimed to me his display was genuine: the whole "experience" thing. Oh, sigh. Like I told him, my desire is for a different set of problems, and not Clintonian baggage piled up in front of the White House entrance like Rose Dewitt Bukater's in Titanic. No, not all of that baggage is Hillary's but it is Clintonian, and that alone was enough to almost sink a ship of state.

A number of those in the audience, and others whom I'd run into during this weekend, heard Ralph Nader speak at "The Biggest Picture" environmental film festival at the Byrd Theatre. (I was sorry to miss The Milagro Beanfield War, and Sonia Braga as a greasemonkey in denim. I remember seeing this at the theater when it was new, and me more so, too).

Those who heard Nader seemed to like him, and as as one told me, with a shrug, "He didn't sound leftist -- he just made sense."

I admit to a certain affinity for Nader and his pugnaciousness though I'm not over the role, how little or not, he played in the Gore v. Bush match up. In Style Weekly he explained, "
To those who blame him for Bush, Nader has countered that Gore lost a number of states he should’ve won (such as Tennessee), that social scientists have proved his pushing Gore to the left actually won him more votes and that Gore would have won Florida if not for illegal voter removals perpetrated by Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris (“Either we’re all spoilers of one another … or none of us are,” Nader has said)."

But I think of Nader while reflecting upon standing there with the Obama crowd and feeling their energy and wishing and hoping such emotions would prove infectious. Political journo/blogger Matt Taibbi--whose sardonic cynicism I couldn't live with and write at the same time, which is why I'm not in Rolling Stone--has made the observation that both Obama and Clinton are just "posturing conservatives" though he prefers the Kenyan-Kansan over the other.

Riding home Taibbi's view, one comes to the conclusion that there is no there there at the center of U.S. politics. What occurs in these wretched campaigns is as meaningless as porn. Perhaps the process would better serve the public if the candidates wore NASCAR jackets featuring the logos of the corporations and sponsorships, with size of the badges commensurate to the amount given. Then none of them could hide who is supplying the gas to keep their private jets and media pool vehicles gassed up and ready to go. Let's just get the bad news out there for everyone to see. I mean this is why Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul aren't going to make much headway. And the oxygen got sucked out of the air John Edwards was trying to breathe.

Richmond has a few Paulists. They've slathered the traffic poles with their "WHO IS RON PAUL?" flyers, and at every public event there seems to be someone raising up a Paulist sign, and I see his name in windows of Fan District apartment buildings. I am friends with a fellow, a lawyer, who was in the U.S. Libertarian party organization when Paul was involved, and my friend got to know him, not well, but enough to see that he was an OK guy. He's no more kooky than anybody else who claims he or she wants the job of President of the United States.

People say they want change-- but really?

The U.S. electorate is, in many cases and with exceptions, docile. We aren't about third candidates. That's just too much work. We aren't marching for revolution -- we've already had one, and George Washington won.

Not much foundation-shifting change is possible because of how the system is rigged. Our founders liked democracy just so far -- the electoral college and the Senate are constant reminders that the national framers feared full participation by the masses at least in equal amount to their hatred of tyrannical whimsy. They tried to set up a system to last in the long term by protecting us from ourselves. They couldn't have foreseen, though, how the rise of mega-corporations and the handmaiden of rampant capitalism would create a nation where 12 different packagings of the same goop with which to wash your hair makes people believe they have real choices.

Our elections, in particular since the time of television, are about rewrapping similar ingredients to pass them off as something different. And 98 percent of incumbent politicians in national and state elections get re-elected. The gerrymandering and reapportionment of districts is one part of the equation to blame; private money and public apathy are the other key components.

How ridiculous is it that in a nation of 300 millions that are choices for nation's figurative leadership comes down to two people. So, yes, I want to cheer and whistle and stomp my feet as my heart lifts to Obama's rhetoric. Except, even if he believes what he says--and I think he probably is convinced in most of his highflown "hope mongering" -- Obama is a mere man, and there's one of him, and he's jumping into the eye of the maelstrom that is Washington D.C. Well, he's got a seat at the edge already. And he wants to stay because he's persuaded of his possessing better methods.

And, tonight, the Democratic voters of Maine...Maine....think so, too.

In Carytown this afternoon, a group of metal-faced, spiky haired 20 somethings were clustering around an Obama campaigner and I overheard one say to the Man from Obama, "We were listening to Hillary last night and it was all God God Jesus God in the first 10 minutes, so we're Obama all the way now."

The young man makes a point. These days, U.S. politicians must refer to the deity or the heavenly hosts with such frequency that you'd think our elections process was on the verge of some ecstatic climax.

So Tuesday is the Crabcake Primaries, Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, and here in Virginia, we don't have to register by party, so, I'm going to amble down to the nearby elementary school to press the button; because, yes, I can.

P.S. I hope eighth blackbird gets all their Grammys tonight. Looks like they've won Best Chamber Music Performance for Strange Imaginary Animals. I don't know if they give a Grammy for Best Playing of A Card Table, but they're winners, in my book.

And Barack won a Grammy for his spoken word rendition of his book.

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At 12:53 PM, Blogger Rockitz said...

Great writeup on the political visits by the candidates, very good stuff. I can attest to the wonderful music by NO BS and Margaret Fleishman at the Camel, which was indeed rocking that night, though Obama was unable to make it. It was great to see the long hard work by Alan Schintzius and many others to make it happen. For those who want to know more about local bands and upcoming shows, check out

Note: Ralph Nader did throw the election to George W. Bush, who managed to roll back virtually all environmental laws to one degree or another, simple fact.


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