Here’s the thing about racism. If you’re a drowning Klansman, and someone offers you their hand in order to save your life, you don’t — at least I don’t think you do — you don’t stop to consider what color the hand is. You grab hold of it, even if it’s a black one. The incident may or may not change your life beyond saving it, but it’d be a hell of a start.
In a very real sense, Barack Hussein Obama (it’s OK to use his middle name now) extended his hand to a drowning nation, and it has grabbed hold for dear life. Perhaps that is one of several reasons Obama won what is perhaps the most significant election of our young democracy. Because the nation’s economy is in such shambles, because its reputation worldwide has been squandered, because the stakes are so high, because people are hurting so much, Obama’s race became supplemental.
As well it should have: he is certainly — The Man for This Moment, required for a once truly magnificent nation now teetering on the brink. Lincoln certainly was such a man, and FDR most certainly was, as was Churchill, and Nelson Mandella. These “Men Meeting Moment” situations are sort of like musing over the original casting of classic films. For example, Warner Bros. wanted George Raft before Humphrey Bogart was cast as Rick in Casablanca. Can you imagine the film with Raft? It wouldn’t have worked. Luckily, Bogart was cast, and he is forever Rick.
And so it is with Lincoln, FDR, Churchill. And Barack Obama. Can we imagine anyone else in this role at this time in our history, emanating hope and worldwide celebration? McCain? Hillary? Mitt?
The entire nation, whether desperate or not, came to realize that Obama’s message of change and hope was essential, and he got the vote, and decisively. Certainly the entire world, in celebration, has been way ahead of us.
Consider the ramifications: huge strides in the role of race in this country, the Supreme Court appointees will be sane, our President can speak with eloquence and depth — and will be welcomed openly around the world (not in secret “demonstration-free” zones). Our President Elect can actually walk up Pennsylvania Avenue to take the oath of office, and not be sequestered in an armored SUV. We can again be perceived as a nation of strength but of peace, justice, fairness, kindness, and humanitarian ideals.
Perhaps at any other election, in any other year, Obama, if he’d gotten as far as being nominated by a major party, might have not succeeded, in large part due to his race. And perhaps any other time the country would have not been so disaffected, the youth not so energized. Again, Obama is not a black man running for President, he is a man running for President who happens to be black. Nevertheless, the last Confederate soldier died a mere 50 or so years ago; our racist past has not receded that far into history’s rear view mirror — making his election all the more remarkable if not downright miraculous. Man Meets the Moment.
But I put a lot of it to George Bush.
Bush’s eight horrendous years did more than anything to reduce, if not eliminate, the weight of Race in the 2008 race. So while Obama’s blackness may have superseded his brilliance, for some voters, and been a distraction at some other point in history, this time people realized they could not let any sort of racism interfere with their choice. And, really, what was their alternative? Thankfully, McCain was about the weakest candidate at this time (Man Misses Moment – the Obverse). McCain was clearly Raft cast as Rick in Casablanca. He was elderly in the era of youth, he was stodgy in the era of open-mindedness, he was certainly Bushlike in a clearly antiBush world.
Jesse Jackson, who was the black man to come closest to winning a major party nomination, in 1988, before Obama actually did, famously warned at the 2000 Democratic Convention: “Stay out the Bushes.” He warned us all. “Stay out the Bushes.”
But that warning was not headed, at least not sufficiently. People blithely voted for him because of some promise of “compassionate conservatism” and the promise not to get oral in the Oval Office. Others blithely voted for Ralph Nader. Many of us cried then, our hair on fire, that we can’t mess with this guy, we must elect Gore! Gore didn’t help himself, and neither did the “liberal press” — scoffing at his “I invented the Internet” malarkey, mocking his “sighing” at Bush’s asinine answers during the first debate, puzzled at his distancing himself from the beloved Clinton.
But the rest is sad history. And then we had a shot at Bush again in 2004, and again the warnings went unheeded, even though by then the Iraqi mess was already a mess, among other things. People fell for the Kerry Flip-Flopping stuff, the Swift Boating stuff, and the Bin Laden tape – a big election lost to small ideas. The smoke alarms were going off, there was something stinking in Ohio — where it all came down to (taking over from Florida 2000) but still people shrugged and accepted it, and Kerry, like Gore, capitulated with ease.
And then it came unglued. The Iraq quagmire became a quagmire. Katrina went Katrina. We found out the government was wantonly spying on us, aided by Verizon! We found out that a CIA spy was thrown under the bus; we found out about “signing statements” and secret torture memos. Finally, there was the economic meltdown. That did it: death, torture, phone taps, and a city drowning is one thing, but screwing with my coinage doesn’t cut it.
And so Obama’s place in history was assured by an alignment of stars of sorts, a perfect storm: the despicable Bush policies — of greed, of secrecy, of death, and in the end, of incredible ineptitude – and Hillary Clinton’s strategic blunders.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson’s appearance as the first black major league baseball player was partly calculated, but mostly also the result of the perfect alignment of the stars — among them the post war era, that particular team (Brooklyn) run by that particular man (Branch Rickey), the presence of Pee Wee Reese, a Kentuckian and respected captain of the Dodgers who kept Robinson centered and famously hugged him on the field. The black man was “OK”. Robinson’s emergence was, and is, celebrated, but of course it was a bittersweet in a way, in the sense of what took so long? Baseball was already 80 years old in 1947, and, over the years before Jackie, many, many black players, consigned to the “Negro Leagues”, were as talented as him, even arguably moreso. But for whatever reason, The Moment did not arrive until 1947, and Jackie was The Man.
In whatever way the table was set for November 4, 2008 – no matter how the perfect storm was brewed, forcing drowning folks to reach out to him — Barack Hussein Obama seized The Moment, and America, for the first time in a great while, stood up and did the right thing. We reach out for his outstretched hand and we’re holding on.
It is bittersweet, but Obama has Bush to thank. We all have Bush to thank.
Mr. Bush, your failed, shameful administration has led us to some gorgeous sunlight. No doubt there were some internal memos from Karl Rove saying, in effect, “We can get away with these polices because they won’t be able to do anything about it.”
Oh, sir, yes we can. And yes we did.
I never thought I would say this, ever, but thank you George W. Bush.
by Robert Illes
Robert Illes is an Emmy winning television writer and producer, currently developing series for Nickelodeon and TV Land. He is an LA native, and a graduate of USC, who lived in Sherman Oaks for 23 years before escaping to Santa Monica (but visits a lot). A member of Valley Democrats United, Bob is also an AirAmericaRadio freak, active in the Writers Guild mentor program, as well as the Democratic party, and is constantly Bush bashing, fighting for verifiable voting procedures, and fighting against Jerry’s Deli showing Fox News on their overhead TVs. What’s the matter with those people!?
Internet radio show “Funny is Money” starring Bob Illes is now on nightly at 7 PM Pacific time www.shokusradio.com CHECK IT OUT!
Reprinted with permission from the Valley Democrats United newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor, where the article first appeared.
Articles by Robert