It was an interesting election until the Clintons started calling Obama the nice young African-American candidate. Yeah, I lived in the south long enough to understand what that means. When I went to Tulane I was often explained as soandso's Jewish friend Dave. It meant that I could come over for dinner, but there would never be a marriage.
The Old South. The problem for the Clintons is that the country has changed, as recently as the generation that's now in its early 20s. Because of my experience at Harvard, I know quite a few of them, and I promise you, race doesn't mean to them what it meant when I was their age. To them, this country is a melting pot where we've not only accepted blacks and Hispanics, but people from incredibly far away with incredible complexions, hair, clothes, traditions and names. Amazingly, it's still America.
This time around a young African-American with a funny name is very mainstream, so much so that the blatant appeal racism of the white-haired old man is as ridiculous as the praise Trent Lott gave to the almost-dead holdover from the Old South, Strom Thurmond.
The problem for Clinton is actually much worse, we now saw how she'd govern. Let's say a young African-American Senator from Illiinois got in the way. Would she argue the issues with him in a respectful way? Why bother when you can smear him into silence. Now she spins around like her husband oblivious to what the rest of us suspected, and now knows for sure. If there isn't now a landslide of support for Obama, from all segments of the Democratic Party and from many Republicans, then our country truly is without hope. I suspect that's not what will happen, and we'll see the same kind of weak attempt at redemption that Trent Lott tried after his fiasco. It won't work, because, as with Lott, we've seen too much.
Now do we know that Obama would be any different? We don't. My cynical side says of course he's just like the Clintons say. "Give me a break" -- it's a "fairy tale." (BTW, I'm quoting the Clintons accurately, a form of respect they don't practice.) Maybe they're right. Maybe this is the last (futile) gasp of hope in America for America. Okay, maybe so. But I'm willing to give it one more try. I think it would say to the rest of the world that America has caught up with reality. Look at how we've changed. Maybe they'll put pictures of Obama in their public buildings as they did with JFK. I could think of worse things. (Caroline Kennedy thinks it's possible.)
What a fantastic way to recover from Bush, who so completely represented the greed and arrogance and uglyness of America, to reinvent ourselves in the image of our best, in the image of hope.
Hope, that's the difference, and it's not just a word. We've all been disempowered during the Clinton and Bush years, sidelined. I remember when I gave up on Clinton, it was during the brightest period of hope for the web, when they passed a compromise that said that the First Amendment didn't apply here. There are some things that are so important that you can't compromise on them. It was then that I knew that Clinton (and Gore) were phonies. Maybe Obama isn't. I never thought I'd get another chance to use my vote to say, along with so many other Americans, that we still believe the bullshit they taught us in school and that our grandparents taught us, and that the flag says to us every time we think of what it means. There's a reason this country is so great. We forgot it. Let's remember.
Bill Clinton wanted us to think well of him when he spoke at Davos in 2000. I choose to remember what he said then, Find A Shared Vision. If by any chance he should read this, I'd say it's time for you to not just say those words but to live them.