Sunday, March 16, 2008

Making History Ugly

When this Democratic primary season began I was a hardened cynic. Hardened by the past nearly eight years of Democratic party history. By Al Gore laying down when the 2000 general election was stolen from him. And by his not winning by enough to allow it to be stolen. Hardened by John Kerry's allowing himself to be swiftboated out of the 2004 election. And I suspect that election was stolen from him as well. This time without hanging chads or a paper trail. Not to mention that the last Democratic administration ended in impeachment on the basis of an offense that was hardly impeachable, especially in view of what we have now. With impeachment "off the table."

I was always an Obama fan, but I never expected him to be a real viable candidate. Not many people did. I expected that he might win a few primaries. As much as I hate to borrow from Hillary Clinton's campaign rhetoric, I thought he would give some inspiring speeches. I thought he'd get people excited, bring people into the process who had never participated or who haven't in a long time. All of which would give us a better chance to win the general election. Then I expected I would have to swallow hard and vote for Hillary Clinton. And I would have.

I held out hope that someone would save us from the fate of Clinton inevitability. But I never thought it would be Obama. And the reason I could not get excited about her is that after 8 years of Bush, I simply hated the idea of having to vote for someone who sounded like Bush lite. Who voted for the war. Who supported it up and until it got unpopular to do so and still couldn't admit that voting for it was a mistake. Inability to admit to a mistake was a quality that also reminded me of the 8 years I would soon like to forget.

Obama did all the things I thought he would, and a lot more. After our long national nightmare, to hear a Democrat who is actually inspiring, who generates real excitement, who talks about hope and sincerely believes in it. Someone who gets young people fired up and involved, and brought the cynical and apathetic back into the fold. I have to admit that I was starting to actually believe something truly miraculous was happening. And I do honestly mean miraculous. Because in 2003 if someone had said that a black man with a funny first name, and a middle name of Hussein, would be winning the nomination for president at this point in 2008, I would have asked them what they were smoking. And to please don't bogart it, because I want a hit. I mean that only metaphorically of course.

And if another miracle cancels out this one out, and Hillary Clinton is the nominee, Democrats are still poised to make history. Democrats, in fact, are already making history. And that's why all the ugliness of this campaign is all the more disheartening. Even to a cynic like myself. The race baiting, the politics of fear, the dirty tactics and the fact that Senator Clinton has actually endorsed her Republican rival over the person likely to win the Democratic nomination, is almost tragic.

I thought a bit about this post and I wondered if there was someone out there with the ability, and with the influence to appeal to our better natures. This is our chance to make history and we are making it ugly. When we look back on this we may have as much to be ashamed of as we have to be proud of. I was going to write it yesterday and I wondered who and how someone could appeal to our better natures and make this something we will not be ashamed to look back on.

All day yesterday I watched the cable news shows, the best political team in show business, and that other one that I guess is not, show Obama's former pastor over and over again with the most damning sound bite that although it is not defensible, is certainly taken out of its context and chosen for it's incendiary effect. And I had to admit that in the case of Geraldine Ferraro, though I totally disagreed with her and thought her comment was racist, that they did the same thing to her. That what she'd said wasn't as bad, taken in full context as the sound bite. Yet it was played over and over again, just the most damning part.

I never got around to writing about what happened yesterday and when I was thinking about it again this morning it occurred to me that if there was someone who could, or something that could appeal to our better natures, if we had better natures that could so easily be appealed to, it wouldn't have taken until 2008 for an African American and a woman to have a chance to be president. If I think back to when history was made in my lifetime, and I was very young then, too young to realize exactly what was happening, it was not much different than now.

It was when Martin Luther King was doing something that at the time was even more miraculous, desegregating the south. Challenging Jim Crow and racism and making a real difference. He made history, but the whole thing was very ugly and many things happened then that we'd like to forget, and often do forget in the retelling. Somehow by the time a lot of history gets into the books we think of it as all, or at least mostly high minded and civil, but in every case it is absolutely the opposite. Even the history that resulted in this Democracy that we are continuing to improve, there were dirty tricks, and there was back biting, back stabbing and nastiness.

In fact, earlier in the week I saw a clip of Paul Giamatti in an interview about his role as John Adams in the HBO series which premiere's tonight and he said that Adams was contradictory, and sometimes too truthful and not a very good politician. Which is the PG way of saying he was kind of a dick. Also in the clip below, the show's producer, Tom Hanks talks about the very nastiness I spoke of above when our nations constitution was being drafted. Maybe this is precisely what it takes to make history. And we do it, because it is the right thing and as John Kennedy said of the space race in the early 60's, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

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