In retrospect, that’s probably when the hazy veil of peace/love/dope began to part, revealing that scourge of young people everywhere and everywhen – reality. Ouch. Time to grow up. There isn’t always a happy ending. A smart person isn’t necessarily an ethical one. (That one stung.) Anyway, I grew up and as I did, I grew away from American politics. When the world didn’t end with Reagan’s election, I figured I could safely step back.
Flash forward a generation-plus. Barack Obama is facing off against John McCain. Black vs white. Ok. Make that tan vs florid. I don’t much care but Son #1 is captivated. Early on, he becomes a rabid Obama acolyte. He loudly, and often, berates me for my jaded indifference. He forgets, or doesn’t care, that I was around for Beatlemania and Trudeaumania. Barack Obamania is moderately interesting, but in a been-there, done-that kind of a way.
When Sarah Palin is announced as McCain’s running mate, I thought it a masterstroke. With Hillary’s reluctant, resentful release of her electoral reins, I thought Palin would appeal to disaffected Clintonites. Then I heard her speak and knew Obama’s coronation was assured.
Tonight was the election. I tuned in to the Comedy Channel’s broadcast at 10, being a Stephen Colbert fan. (I can tolerate Jon Stewart if I read the paper while he’s talking.)
By then, on account of Son #1 running downstairs every 1.3 minutes to announce CNN’s latest incantation, I knew which way the wind was blowing. Obama was going to be President elect of the United States of America. It was confirmed around 11 o’clock. Which is when I really begin to focus on what I am seeing on my television.
I see a humble, tired, and very gracious John McCain offering congratulations and cooperation to Barack Obama.
Then I see Obama and listen to him for the first time.
Oh yeah. This guy’s got It. He can move mountains with his voice alone. I envision a second, milk-chocolatey, American Camelot. Michelle projects intelligence, grace and power. Both of them, husband and wife, put me in mind of cats. They are lithe and sleek. They kiss and entwine fingers after his soaring acceptance speech and I read her lips saying “I love you” and I can almost hear them both purr. I realize I’ve been spellbound. Like a majority of Americans and idealistic people from around the world - I recognize the magic that is his. That is theirs.
And I wonder. I wonder if maybe this skinny guy from Illinois can make the same kind of impression on his people as that other skinny guy from Illinois did. Obama himself drew that Lincolnesque comparison.
He can certainly move a crowd. He projects and instills an evangelical fervor. The camera is forever zooming in on tear-stained, chanting faces. Just like the ones I remember from those Beatles’ concerts and those Trudeau appearances.
Obama stops speaking and the next several minutes are filled with a slow procession of running mates and extended family onto the stage. Hugs and kisses abound. Black embraces white and vice versa and the symbolism fairly shouts. I become aware of the music and focus, for the first time, on the production aspects of what I’m experiencing.
I’m particularly struck by the music. It is a seemingly endless series of crescendos - rising and swelling in majestic waves - buoying the emotions of the crowd.
It is powerful. I realize this is a man who has mastered media. Or his handlers have. Doesn’t matter really. He is a force.
I’m a lucky guy. I live in interesting times.
And I think American politics have become intriguing again.
*Kurt Vonnegut. But you knew that.