The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Shock of The New
Come what may, we as a nation are in a place we've never been

The other night I was at a social gathering of friends sitting around a backyard fire pit, and amid the ebb and flow of conversation and the sparks carried away into the night, a silence formed. And one of the group sitting there, gazing into the flames, intoned, "Now that George Bush is gone, we don't have much to talk about anymore."

Which made us chuckle, but, in fact, just as the administration of George W. Bush had become wearisome, so has talking about its incompetence, callousness and corruption. What more else could you say after eight years of the variation on a theme?

Witness the jubilation recorded and loaded up to YouTube above. The two young women are pouring into the street to experience an event they'll remember the rest of their lives. (I've experienced difficulty getting it to stick here; so you may or may not see it, if not, you can go here.) 

This is Broad Street, in Richmond, Virginia, between Harrison and Ryland streets, amid the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. About this time, at the other end of town, a group of students and Obama supporters -- perhaps drifting up from the gala at Toad's Place in Shockoe -- formed in Capitol Square and stood before the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, and once the seat of the Confederate legislature, and sang the "Star-Spangled Banner."

Then they, thousands of them, moved up through town, along Broad Street, hooting, cheering, chanting and waving banners and signs. Our city police watched uncomprehending and cautious. Here was not a riot, nothing violent, not even inebriated. Just happy.

"From The Hallelujah To The Hoot Is But A Step."

Amie and I were driving home after watching the results come in and the speeches, among friends, and where people cheered and wept. We had on WRIR and we heard a remote reporter speaking about some kind of spontaneous gathering at Adams and Broad, downtown and she said to me, "Let's go."

So we drove down to Franklin Street, parked there near Henry Street or so, and began walking over to Broad. We didn't see much of anybody at first, but heard the roaring of a crowd, and cheers, and car horns, and even train whistles as they locomotives passed along the northside track.

When we came out onto Broad, around Adams, we saw throngs, and two men walking up the middle of Broad Street holding a U.S. flag, like some 21st century version of Liberty Leading The People.

We followed along, the big majority of the crowd was bubbling toward Laurel and Franklin, at the center of the VCU campus, by dorms and Monroe Park. And we stood upon a wall there and watched the celebration. Drummers drummed, chanters chanted, some more daring clambered upon the new architectural affectation there in front of the dorms, a kind off stick pergola, and others climbed upon street poles and traffic signals. One girl, caught up in the moment, chose to trust fall into the arms of the waiting crowd. Something could have spun out and gone very badly, but, near as I could see and heard later, nothing untoward occurred (save for some isolated reported instances of pepper spraying by the police).

Though approaching a week later, I'm still somewhat in a state of disbelief. Virginia went Democratic, which it hasn't since Lyndon Johnson, almost in my life-time. A candidate for whom, though I was proud of, and though with a great ambivalence about the political system in general, I wanted to see win. And he triumphed. Before midnight. No days-long uncertainty, or tribulation, or Supreme Court intervention. He won it. He won amid the Republicans accusing him of getting money from overseas, and of ACORN stealing votes, and everything else they could latch hold of and throw in his direction.

On the opposite spectrum, the conspicuous lack of support Obama gave to the gay marriage propositions, especially in California, has already annoyed some of his committed supporters from the rainbow side. The financial bailout, the FISA rule that he voted to renew, all these aspects to his record will come into question during the months ahead. We'll see how much like Obama operates like a Chicago-machine apparatchik that the gets accused of.

And I found myself, despite my own tears of thanksgiving, thinking of several things. First, a sentiment expressed by Vladimir Nabokov, "that from the hallelujah to the hoot is but a step."

We learned this week that the vaunted "youth vote," though the highest in decades, was still not overwhelming, and what made the difference was that those who cast their vote didn't split between Democrats and Republicans, most of them sided with Obama. Which is how you win elections.

The next day, I would see reaction from around the world, the tears and cheers, in the streets of Paris, Singapore, and the Obama ancestral village in Kenya. This was a huge sigh of relief; like a war had ended.

But this election ended not a single war. Not yet. 

Later in the week, taking lunch at home, I watched on CSPAN a conference of Conservative women and they did not seem to understand why they had lost; they blamed the media -- despite Fox News and three hours of Rush Limbaugh and all of his ilk saturating the nation every day.

On First Friday, where some of the festive sense of earlier in the week could still be felt, the No BS Brass Band played in front of the former Obama-Biden canvassing offices. Now, the space resembled a hastily-organized musuem, filled with all manner of campaign ephemera, signs, flyers, photographs, even a few for Nader and McCain. I was reminded of all those images that have appeared on walls of the missing and dead following 9-11 and Katrina, and how different this was. The sudden urge to commemorate the just passed moment of triumph reinforces how, yes, the spectacular victory of Nov. 4 is past us. The real nasty business of governing is ahead. 

"The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable."

And second, a feature in Esquire I noted some months ago, Charles B. Pierce's "The Cynic and Senator Obama."

Pierce, the titular Cynic, is listening to Obama speak over a car radio and through poor reception. Poetry.

"The sound quality is erratic, as though the engineer were putting down the volume at the end of every line. The applause sounds like water rushing through rusty pipes. The rudimentary transmission makes the stump speech sound both fresh and timeless. All of the same laugh lines and punch lines and applause lines are there, but they sound to the cynic like something different, as though he were listening for the first time to something out of the Library of Congress, a recording recently exhumed from an obscure archive. The cynic decides that politics is better on the radio, the same way baseball is, where you have to construct the scene in your own head. Radio is for dreamers. Television is for hucksters, and it has leached from American politics all of its creative imagination."


“I look forward as president to going before the world community and saying, ‘America is back. We’re ready to lead,’ “ Obama says on the radio, the static crackling and popping and the transmission fading, and it takes a moment for the cynic to wonder whether or not the world wants America to lead. Maybe the world wants America to sit down and shut up for a while.

. ...........................................................................................................................................

How we didn't get into this predicament just during the past eight years; oh no, there's plenty of blame to go around, including who you see in the mirror:

"There is no point anymore in blaming George Bush or the men he hired or the party he represented or the conservative movement that energized that party for what has happened to this country in the past seven years. They were all merely the vehicles through whom the fear and the lassitude and the neglect and the dry rot that had been afflicting the democratic structures for decades came to a dramatic and disastrous crescendo. The Bill of Rights had been rendered a nullity by degrees long before a passel of apparatchik hired lawyers found in its text enough gray space to allow a fecklessly incompetent president to command that torture be carried out in the country’s name."

The ownership of the people over their politics -- and, therefore, over their government -- had been placed in quitclaim long before the towers fell, and the president told the people to be just afraid enough to let him take them to war and just afraid enough to reelect him, but not to be so afraid that they stayed out of the malls.

It had been happening, bit by bit, over nearly forty years. Ronald Reagan sold the idea that “government” was something alien. The notion of a political commonwealth fell into a desuetude so profound that even Bill Clinton said, “The era of Big Government is over” and was cheered across the political spectrum, so that when an American city drowned and the president didn’t care enough to leave a birthday party, and the disgraced former luxury-horse executive who’d been placed in charge of disaster relief behaved pretty much the way a disgraced former luxury-horse executive could be expected to behave in that situation, it could not have come as any kind of surprise to anyone honest enough to have watched the country steadily abandon self-government over the previous four decades. The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable. The people of the United States have been accessorial in the murder of their country."

"The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable," a-men, brother a-men.


"In 2007, when asked about the possibility -- just the possibility -- of impeaching George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney, Obama scoffed at the idea, not entirely because it was constitutionally unsound but also because it was impolite and a nuisance and might make many people angry at one another, and he was, after all, running to help save us from ourselves.

“We would, once again, rather than attending to the people’s business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, nonstop circus.”

He was offering a guilty country a nolo plea. Himself. Absolution without confession.

The cynic declined the deal. There were not enough people in handcuffs yet."


"The cynic wondered if Obama’s campaign had not found itself in a blind alley of its own devising. By offering his complicit, fearful nation and its complicit, brutish people absolution without confession, without penance, Obama guaranteed that the sins would stay, and they would be committed over and over again, and against him this time. Poor bastard, thought the cynic. When the cynic heard Obama talk about Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now,” he wondered first and always why Obama spent so much time talking about great men -- Abraham, Martin, John, and Bobby -- who’d all been shot in the head."

And Pierce wrote this before Hillary's Bobby Kennedy-primary ending in June kerfluffle. In the New York Deli a few days ago, I overheard an older gentleman striking up conversation with a college-age kid. The older man was more of a Ron Paul guy, so was the kid, and the Paulite said, he actually said this, "I feel so sorry for Barack. Even if he gets elected, somebody's going to shoot him."

Why do we think these things? Because in our hearts we don't really want any change. Anybody who tries is either marginalized, vilified -- or killed.

Now who sounds cynical?

Change Everywhere -- Except Here

We have elected Barack Hussein Obama President of the United States. He is ours now. And he's got a task ahead of worthy of cleaning the Augean stables. Already, the recriminations and attacks of the embittered have started, preparing to mince every gaffet -- like that remark about Nancy Reagan and séances -- made me chuckle, but wince, because I knew what was coming.

The thousands marched and expressed their exuberant enthusiasm for a paradigm shift in the way the nation is governed. Except for the Richmond city elections -- where everything basically remained the same.

We'll have a new mayor; instead of a Governor-Mayor, a Delegate-Reverend-Mayor and all but one of the sitting City Council returned to their chairs. So we get a big change at the national level, which is good, but more of the same right here on the street where political choices impart an immediate and direct affect. That outcome is a profound disappointment for me.

I listened to the Delegate-Minister-Mayor in a Meet The Candidates forum at the beginning of the season -- this was a strange Richmond day, rain while the sun shined, followed by a rainbow. During this session, the future Mayor grumped that he was tired of having to drive 95 miles to participate in cultural and sports activities. This stunned me. I know the man gets out of his house and visits restaurant row on Main Street from time-to-time, so what was he talking about?

Has he never attended a First Friday? Has he bothered to read the new Master Plan? Does he realize that this city supports a symphony and a ballet? He doesn't seem to know much, in fact, about the city he's now supposed to lead.

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At 5:26 PM, Blogger foam said...

ya, mrs hek told me all about this event ..
t'was all very quiet in this nc county ..
it's stayed red as it has for decades.


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