Sunday, November 9, 2008

I can't resist

I know everybody's sick of the election, but I feel the need to record a few random thoughts about it. Those of you who just can't take any more politics can enjoy this classic number from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. The rest of you may rejoin me below.

While waiting for the results on Tuesday, I kept flashing back to the 1968 election. I was six years old, and my mother took me with her to vote. My home town is tiny--probably about 1200 people at that time--and there was only one polling place. The line of voters stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. The wait seemed to take forever. Everybody in line knew everybody else, so there was a lot of gabbing to pass the time. There was very little conversation between blacks and whites, though in the usual course of things there would have been.

Open racial antagonism was not an everyday occurrence back then, especially not in little country towns where the remnants of Jim Crow lingered. Civil exchanges of the "How are you? Nice weather we're having" variety were the norm between blacks and whites. Of course, at the slightest threat to the caste system the hammer would come down in one way or another, but among white people such things were talked about in hushed tones, or not at all--at least not around children. We did think and talk about race all the time, though. We talked about it as a fact of life in our community, as we always had; and also in the more abstract (to us) terms of the civil rights movement, the King assassination, etc. Even at six, I was very aware that I lived in a world where your skin color shaped your life.

I don't know how long blacks had been voting where I lived, or if they were hassled at all when they tried to register. I certainly didn't see any trouble that election day. There was no hostility or rudeness toward the black voters, just silence. Blacks and whites avoided looking at each other. The blacks didn't talk much among themselves, and whenever there was a lull in the chatter among the whites, the quiet seemed to open the way for a collective self-consciousness that filled the air like a presence.

Remembering that scene last Tuesday, I thought, On that day, this day was inconceivable. But now I don't think that's quite right. It would be closer to the truth to say that this day had just become conceivable as we stood together in line. I think that's what created the tense silence between us.


It makes me sad that I live in the swathe of America that moved rightward--or should I say backward?--this year. You can see the hard evidence of our recalcitrance here. How much of that is down to simple racism? A lot, probably, but religion has everything to do with it, too. The red gash corresponds very neatly with the majority white portion of the Bible Belt. (The increased number of black voters in the Deep South states offsets any increased Republican support among Christian whites there.)


I have to confess, knowing that McCain was certain to take Tennessee, I had some serious thoughts about going for a third party candidate once I was in the voting booth. I considered Nader, who has gotten my vote twice; and McKinney, who has been an admirable troublemaker, but seems slightly unhinged. In the end I voted for Obama, mostly because it seemed to me that, since he was going to win, he should win big and get the popular vote as well as the electoral college. The last thing we need is the Republicans harping on about Obama stealing the election for the next four years.

Now the question is, how much do I actually want to support this guy? He's already staffing up with some very dubious characters. It's not looking good, especially re Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. I remember all too well how happy I was when Clinton took office after the 12 long years of Reagan and Bush the Elder. Within months, he was bombing Iraq.

Still, I can't help wanting to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. Partly because of the race issue, sure--but also because, whatever crimes he may get up to, his supporters embody some of the best things about this country: openness, intelligence, some sense of civic and social responsibility, a belief in human rights, a desire for peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world, etc. I am not much of a joiner, but I like being part of that crowd.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm a dreamer, or maybe I'm still giddy over the returns, but I have great hope for Obama. In this world, there are no silver bullets, but there has been a seismic shift in the way our new leaders will look at the world and our place in it. I am hopeful even that Obama will be able to re-shape the American electorate into something more moderate and aspirational than it has been during the cynical years of Reagan and the old Democratic party. W is gone, but so are the Gipper and the Clintons. Maybe a new politics is forming. I've got hope.

BitterGrace said...

Ah, Bozo, you just won't give a cynic a break. Okay, I admit, I'm still a little giddy, too. I want so much for some piece of this to be real--and hey, maybe it is. He's at least going to close Gitmo. I was beginning to wonder if even that would ever happen.