An awful lot of childish behavior has been on parade on the campaign trail this year. Well, yeah, pretty much every campaign season we see that, but this year has seemed even more juvenile than usual. Are we getting beyond that, at long last? Did we just take a big step?
There's one way in which we certainly should be trying to grow up as a nation: It's long past time for us to get over the racial issue. Do we really want our nation to cling so tightly to the bad old ways? Is it just that doggone critical to maintain the pout on our collective lips about a tarnished few still-cherished old grudges and grievances? Or do we really want to move forward? We come far enough by now - crossing over into a completely new millennium, numbering 350 million, venturing to the moon and back, presently on our way to Pluto, celebrating the first woman Speaker of the House, and honoring the first viable female candidacy for President. But can we push farther - can we go all the way - perhaps beyond the old boundaries of a societal solar system? Were we, are we, fully aware of the threshold leaped and the distance traveled on this third night of the Democratic National Convention?
There were two major events to distinguish the day, and the principals involved looked pretty darn grown-up. After a long and nauseating obsession on whether the Barack-versus-Hillary would slice the party like a sushi chef filets a fine fish, it seems a lot more cool to link arms with some strong leadership and kick our differences into the corner.
There didn't seem to be any traces remaining of a family squabble. Hillary Clinton was hardly half-hearted when she spoke for the New York delegation, shortstopping the delegate tallies to nominate Barack Obama by acclamation. It was a vigorous and enthusiastic follow-up to her rousing speech of the previous night. Then, the rabid speculation about "What Would Bill Do" was firmly ended.
No wavering from him after his lead-off sentence, once the screaming standing ovation died down. President Bill Clinton's second line was a straightforward declaration of support for Barack Obama, and then a pledge to work with Hillary and her "18 million" to help get him elected. He left no doubt about his resolve to join and work hard for the team. Throughout Clinton's speech and that of Joe Biden afterwards, there were more detailed remarks - statements and phrases that the rest of us in the trenches in the days ahead are going to need to maintain our resolve and answer some nasty email or uninformed claim borrowed from conservative hate radio. More of the red meat that many of us have been yearning to bite into was indeed served, and on a fairly large plate. If not quite beefy enough to come with candles, good crystal, and Grandma's sterling silver flatware, then at least it was presented on some nice place mats with clean stainless steel knives and forks.
I would have liked the knives on that table to have had somewhat sharper edges to them, however. Childish of me, maybe. It was elegant for Clinton and Biden both to praise John McCain's service. Not sure I could have been so kind. Clinton didn't dwell on his own glory days beyond a reminder of how many ways we were better off by the time his stewardship ended than we will be by the time George Bush gets through with us. But he did say those eight years of his convinced him that Obama is the man for the big job, and noted that people once said he also was too young and inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief.
A really great part about the Third Night, in terms of making a public case for Obama's eligibility came in two words from Bill Clinton: "here's why." For the first time in prime time, from both Clinton and Biden, we heard specific reasons why - as Biden's litany put it - "Barack Obama is right and John McCain is wrong." That was a clear delineation that had not been firmly established this week. They both spelled out in some detail how the economic and foreign policy blunders of the Bush administration that have left our country in such woeful shape would carry over into a McCain reign. For the first time, at least among the principal figures, we actually heard references to an assault on science, torture, Hurricane Katrina, and cronyism. Even so, these constituted a mere handful on a list of thousands of unmentioned reckless political, moral, and legal benders from which we will have a monster of a national hangover, and which we soft-peddle, overlook, or forgive too easily - at our peril.
The only enlargement which might have covered any atrocities committed by Dick Cheney and friends, came from a Joe Biden joke to those who uphold the law and honor the Constitution - "no longer will you hear those eight most dreadful words in the English language - 'the vice president's office is on the phone.'" Biden did come up with another one, inadvertently - a Freudian slip about the America that George Bush has left us being the America that George - oops - that John McCain is going to give us. I guess the Twin City Twins really are awfully hard to tell apart.
The night of Clintons Behaving Graciously and Joe Biden fighting with finesse was unexpected. The first half of it was a most welcome change and a big step toward maturity. We've been repeatedly told by the media about the Great Democratic Divide - that in reality seems only a vague memory by now. Perhaps we really are growing up in that regard. I must admit I would have liked to see Biden thrash around in the playpen a little more. John McCain hasn't taken anywhere near the lumps from our side that his side will be shoveling at us with every bulldozer in Minneapolis (and some ceremoniously flown in from Iraq), and with an aim to bury us alive.
But while we agonize about whether to hit hard and keep hitting, or to try a more adult approach, we do have one thing that makes us all very grown-up indeed. Tactics and individual convention highlights aside, we all took one giant leap for American-kind on the Third Day. The smiles, the tears, the rapt expressions, the bliss - from faces of all skin tones throughout the arena - told the full story. Our country evolved tonight. We grew up a little more. We reached farther. We stood just a little taller and took a longer, deeper, more deliberate breath. We knocked 18 million cracks in one glass ceiling and utterly shattered another. We are not the same America now. We're a nation with an emotional, cultural, societal, and historical wound that we've nursed for centuries - and a whole lot of us just made it official - that we're getting over it and putting it behind us.
There is a person of color just one election away from possibly winning the biggest, most powerful, and most important job in this country. We should all stop a moment in the midst of this partisan madness and appreciate that. Hey, world - we're growing up. It's a huge first in American history that some Democratic party elders stated today that they thought they'd never live to see. Joe Biden put it nicely - "these are extraordinary times. I'm ready, Barack Obama's ready, this is his time, this is our time."
Maybe it finally is.
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