Wednesday, June 04, 2008

40 Years

Several years ago, during the peak of the Bush years, I wrote a short post called Heroes which I took down after only a few hours because I felt it was too depressing. It wasn't a particularly deep thought, and it was a drastic oversimplification of reality, but it seemed true on a symbolic level, especially given what at the time seemed the bleak prospect of sanity prevailing in this country any time soon. It went something like this: In some ways, the difference between Republican fortunes and Democratic are a matter of random chance - their hero survived his bullet, and went on to conquer. Bobby didn't, and in many ways the soul of the party died with him in that California ballroom.

Robert Kennedy was killed long before I was born, so my knowledge of the man and his impact - both realized and potential - is purely derived from books. I wasn't there, so I can't truly know what it felt like to watch his rise, only to have the bottom fall out in such a horrific manner. Consequently, I don't have a need to see RFK (or JFK, for that matter) reincarnated in every Democratic figure who begins to show promise.

However, I can't help but see and be affected by the symbolism of Barack Obama officially claiming the Democratic nomination on the 40th anniversary of RFK's death.

It would be idiotic to state that Obama is picking up where Kennedy left off - that would be tantamount to saying that no social progress has been made in this country since 1968, which is patently false. But it is hard not to feel as though we have just witnessed a passing of the torch from one generation of progressives to another - notarized by the endorsement of the last surviving Kennedy brother just before he began fighting what we all fear may be his final battle.

I have always been pretty good at not buying into anyone's hype machine - if everybody starts to say the same thing all at once, I immediately get suspicious - and ornery. But I have to admit, I am more than a little optimistic about the idea of a black man taking control of a party that has been mortally wounded for an entire generation by the deaths of two of the most fierce advocates of the Civil Rights movement, and riding its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Bush years all the way to the White House amidst what could potentially be a historic Congressional rejection of the movement conservatism that has reigned since the eighties.

Despite the progressive tendency to project their own visions onto him, Barack Obama is his own man; he is not the incarnation of everyone's hopes and dreams. But that doesn't mean that Denver cannot be the place where the wounds of Chicago are permanently consigned to the history books.

6 comments:

Grace Nearing said...

I'm old enough to just remember JFK, so of course the only things I remember are the missle crisis (duck-and-cover drills several times a day for two or three weeks) and then his assassination.

I was 10, and I was stunned to realize that adults were insane.

I have clearer memories of RFK. I was 15 and with adolescent righteousness just knew that the Vietnam war was going to go on for a very long time with or without RFK -- because adults were insane.

I am now casually scanning articles on knee replacement surgery. I look and smile at Obama, always in a crisp white shirt, on my TeeVee. But in my middle-aged weariness, I just know the Iraq war will go on for a couple more years -- because adults are insane.

res ipsa loquitur said...

JFK died before I was born -- RFK when I was a child. Still, I'm sort of ashamed that I have trouble connecting emotionally even with the symbolism with which you're connecting. What's getting me a bit choked up, though, is the thought that a guy just slightly older than me -- someone who could have sat next to me in high school chemistry -- could become the POTUS. I feel like my generation is finally coming out of this huge shadow of the baby boomers. It's our turn and I don't want us to screw it up (or allow it to be screwed up by a bunch of embittered Republican dead-enders).

res ipsa loquitur said...

P..S. Yeah, I know BHO is technically Baby Boom. Doesn't feel that way, though.

Panurge said...

Problem is, part of the reason Obama "doesn't feel Baby Boom" seems to be a certain conservatism of spirit. This may be necessary, but I can't help but feel sorry for the Baby Boom dream--the last real dream, and ultimately a good one. Dreamless Gen-X pragmatism will get us somewhere, I suppose (or at least it *feels* like something that'll get us somewhere), but what kind of soul is America going to have now? Unless Obama can unite the Boomers and Gen-X--and as a post-Boomer he's in a pretty good position to do that.
Oh, just for reference's sake I'm pretty much the same age.

Pablo said...

Panurge, I gotta say I get tired of hearing that. Gen X is not lazy or apathetic or dreamless, whatever term you'd like to apply. Most of this is stream-of-consciousness, not a direct response to you, but you got me thinking.

That kind of almost surly view of youth culture has happened over and over again (see here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/10/14/11539/216 ). I say this as a 27 year old. That makes me, what, Gen Y? We're the ones who went through high school seeing the promise of the Clinton economic growth (not just tech boom, but pay-go and surplus) and watched it get destroyed by Bush, along with our kids' futures (public education, deficit my grandkids will still have to pay off, etc). I may never get to own a home, even though I have a college degree and a science-oriented profession (though, if the prices fall enough . . .).

What makes a generation is the challenges they face. No whole generation has had much of a challenge since the "greatest," but we're facing several now. Iraq, global warming, record deficits, robber-barons and war profiteers, so on. Global warming may be our chance to outdo the greatest, depending on how dire things get.

The Boomers faced a manufactured drug war, played host to the "silent majority," and so on, so I see what you mean about the conservatism of spirit. But was the dream a good one? It contributed greatly to the urban sprawl and commuter culture we're going to have to reverse. Nuclear families isolated in their little castles, never speaking to their neighbors because they commute in and out. Where's the community? It contributed to the "don't touch my money" view of government, because nobody saw the community anymore.

Gahhh. Forgive my rambling. Lemme know what you think, though.

Pablo said...

Follow-up correction: I really didn't mean to minimize the civil rights movement and Vietnam protests and such. These were pretty big, important fights. I was just pointing out that WWII overshadows them by quite a bit, and the changes we'll need to implement to stave off global warming disaster may as well.