Tuesday, January 20, 2009

American Jesus




I’ve been trying to sort through my thoughts concerning the inauguration of Barack Obama. I find the event itself – the installing into office of America’s first not-entirely-white president – both fascinating and inspiring.

The comparisons to John F. Kennedy are easy to make. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. I was three years old when he was elected. Coming from a background of Irish Catholicism, and having been born and raised in Massachusetts, I saw almost as many portraits of Kennedy hanging in houses as I did of Jesus Christ. Having never experienced any outright prejudice concerning either my Catholicism or my Irish blood, I found some of the stories I heard bizarre.

The reality of the situation was that some people honestly believed Kennedy would construct a secret tunnel between Washington, DC, and The Vatican, and he would turn the running of the government of the United States over to The Pope. Compare and contrast to the expectation, by some, that Obama is some sort of secret double agent for an Arab state. The reality of the situation, concerning Kennedy, was that less than 100 years before, Irish people were being denied employment and housing because of their ethnicity, and were subject to public ridicule in the entertainments of the day. Compare and contrast to the even more hideous treatment of blacks in this country, up to and including slavery. The reality of the Kennedy election was that there had been, at one time, political parties set up explicitly to keep Catholics from political power. Compare and contrast to the policies of Lester Maddox and a thousand others.

Many in my family saw the election of Kennedy as a culmination of their own total acceptance as Americans. I can understand the temptation to look at Obama’s election in a similar light. Kennedy was, in my neighborhood, a secular saint. Obama is the same for many.

As with Kennedy, many people are expecting things that just won’t happen. Obama may or may not turn out to be an effective president, but he will most certainly not hand the country over to foreign powers, nor will he cure every societal ill with a wave of his hand. He is a politician. Neither his name or his skin color will make a whit of difference to those hell-bent on destroying America, nor will his lovely smile and great oratorical skills miraculously turn around an economy that is tanking.

Come back four or eight years from now. We will generally be in better or worse shape on the whole, but we will not have morphed into a suburb of heaven, nor will Arabic be our official language. The country will more-or-less be the same. The good stuff will still be good stuff, and most folks will still grouse about the stuff that’s beyond their control.

No matter how bad or good a job Obama does (and that is almost always an opinion, not an objective analysis) we will, at the end of his run, still be afflicted with the morons who feel that the be-all and end-all of any argument is something entirely irrelevant. White dopes and black dopes will still vote for candidates based on race. Male dopes and female dopes will still vote for someone because of the sexual equipment a person has, while gay dopes and straight dopes will vote based on what those people DO with that equipment.

People of small minds will still worry more about a candidate’s name than they will about the content of his or her heart. That’s just the way it is. People, in general, will always be more tribal than global.

This inauguration is inspiring because, somehow, we sort-of got past that stuff, at least for a little while. I say “sort-of” because I submit that if Obama had been 70, bald, and not quite as glib, and John McCain had been young, fit, and a better off-the-cuff speaker, we still would have elected the white guy, despite whatever else they brought to the table. That’s just speculation, of course. What we DID, as a nation, was somewhat remarkable. Even if you didn’t vote for Obama (and, to be sure, I didn’t) today is a day for some pride. Here’s why.

Today we will, as we have for more than 200 years, pass the reins of power in peace. That single act, which we pull off every few years and which we consider unremarkable, is a thing of amazement for much of the world. Military coups, dictatorships, bloody revolts and civil wars, are the norm in some places. The fact that we can do what we do, in such a calm manner, is the major reason why we are what we are, and why there is always hope we can be much, much more.

Some folks, mostly those with an agenda, will try to convince you that today is about skin color. Don’t let them get away with such perfidious nonsense. It is not about the color of one man’s skin. It is about the content of our national character.

I am always hopeful. I’m an optimist by nature, and I always imagine, at least initially, things working out for the best. I would like to believe that Obama can be a great president, and that we can become something better as a result. But, things are (despite the protestations of the permanently malcontent) pretty damned good already. Most of us have a standard of living that even kings only dreamed of as recently as a couple of hundred years back, and it is only in comparison to our more well-off fellows that many of us suffer. Obama will not be able to alleviate true soul-depth suffering any more than any other president has. That’s up to you and me, not the government.

Obviously, this is a (thus far) unique event in American history. But, the more I think about it, the more I am reminded of a song lyric I wrote back in 1981. It was about Reagan, but it could just as easily be about Kennedy or the current situation.

You think that you are free
But you're really in captivity
They maintain your cage and diffuse your rage
In the best of times, they’ve committed their crimes
On you
And they don’t give a damn about truth
They just keep on lying; you just do as you’re told
You don’t even know, and I wonder if you care
You’ve been bought and sold

No American Jesus will save us
He would, if he could, but he can’t, so he won’t
No American Jesus will save us
From ourselves

Liberal or Conservative; Republican or Democrat; Black or White; The less time we spend looking for others to help us, and the more time we invest in honest introspection and self-improvement, the better off we’ll be, both individually and as a nation.

************************************************************

There is a self-congratulatory nature about this whole thing that I find slightly distasteful. Look at us! We elected a black man! Aren't we wonderful?

Well, at the risk of sounding as jingoistic as some of the folks I'm putting down, yes, we are wonderful. However, our electing this one man isn't what makes us so. It is the fact that we have the ability to do so that matters. It's a somewhat subtle distinction, but one I feel needs to be pointed out.

There are a lot of folks running around saying that this is the culmination of Reverend Martin Luther King's dream. No, it isn't. It's some part of it, to be sure, but until we get completely past the point where we feel the need to point out that Obama is the first black president, or that Frank Robinson was the first black manager in baseball, or that Bill Russell was the first black head coach in basketball, or whatever other distinction we've made, Dr. King's dream is still in abeyance. The truest test, yet to come, will be when a black candidate LOSES a presidential election. Then we’ll see just how much of the bad stuff we’re really past. If he or she loses, and the country goes about its business normally, with no grumbling about prejudice, then we'll be there.

If nothing else, I am grateful to see so many people with genuine smiles today. I fear that more of them will be disappointed, in the end, than will be gratified.

I hope I’m dead wrong.


41 comments:

lime said...

very.well.said.

this was some seriously mo better stuff. thank you for this very clear-headed perspective.

Shammickite said...

Its a big big day in the USA today.
And I really hope that everything goes as planned. I shall be watching it all on the telly along with the rest of the world.
Good luck to your new president.... and may the people (and the media!) employ caution, understanding and patience cos the current mess will take more than a few weeks to clear up!
Hooray for Mr Obama.
And hooray for all the people who voted for him.
And also for everyone who didn't.

Carolina said...

Hopefully Obama will be an intelligent, sensible and wise president. Although I'm convinced that people who feel the need to go into politics, thinking they are the ones that can change things into their idea of how things should be, have something fundamentally wrong with themselves. Oh dzjee, I don't know how to make myself clear, but maybe that's for the better.
Good luck to us all!

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

Excellent post, Mr. Suldog.

Prognostications of all sorts not withstanding, we shall see what we shall see.

GreenJello said...

Fantastic post. Bravo!

jinksy said...

I can only reiterate here something I wrote a day or two back -

That which is saught is often elusive, that which comes unbidden is reality before it is recognised.

Chris Stone said...

Regarding Obama. I'm psyched. And not necessarily with expectation. I'm just psyched.

*and, btw, i think you would enjoy this blog *
http://asksistermarymartha.blogspot.com/

Angie Ledbetter said...

Whatever's to come, let us remember the hope. And no matter what, we can ALL work toward self-sufficiency and being more giving to each other. Did that make sense? Need more java. :)

barman said...

Very nicely done, so much better than I could ever have said. It makes one think too.

Lime mentioned that I might want to read this post. I hope you do not mind but I added a link to my post today to this wonderful post of yours. You say so much of what I was thinking but just did not know how to say it.

jill said...

nicely stated, sir. it is a great day - just as all our inaugurations are.

Meredith Teagarden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meredith Teagarden said...

Well written. You have articulated what many of us have tossed around and lacked the ability to express with such clarity.

Karen said...

Simple. Succint. No holds barred. That's what I like about your writing. I do hope that you send good stuff like this to local or national newspapers... this is something everyone should hear.

Suldog said...

I'd just like to thank everyone for the very kind words. I'm glad what I had to say was understood and appreciated.

Moannie said...

That was a very interesing post, Suldog. I said to JP as we were watching the ceremony, that I will believe that things have truly changed [re. race] when men of any colour are pronounced American rather than African, Native, Caucasion.

i beati said...

superbly said -I was afraid to write anything.I once forwarded a political joke to my daughter in law who hasn't spoken to me since..sk

Kuanyin Moi said...

And I hope you're dead wrong too! :-) Interesting lyrics from your old song---do you have videos of you from the old days? I'd love to see them if you ever post them!

In the meantime and in the NOWtime, I'm singing and dancing with joy.

Michelle H. said...

A very level-headed post, especially the part on how dopes vote. I think this was great. I could not agree with you more.

Suldog said...

Kuanyin asks about video of me from when I was in bands. No, none exists. Personal video cameras were still pretty much the province of the rich and none of us were (or going to be, either.) For one photo of me on stage, you can go here:

http://jimsuldog.blogspot.com/2006/02/my-past-life-as-lyricist.html

Hilary said...

Wonderfully stated. Eloquent and wise.

Janet said...

As always, your assessment is thoughtful and thought-provoking. I watched the inauguration (the only other one I watched was Clinton's first one) and I was very pleased with his speech. I hope people don't expect him to immediately be able to fix the Excess of Evil's 8 years of damage.

I liked this part: "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."

I don't think the former president liked it as much.

david mcmahon said...

Applause, Jim ....

Jenn said...

Excellent writing, I started a response here but it was up to about 200 words so I am going to work on a blog post for tomorrow and will link back to this.

Strangely my word verification is press.

Adamity_Bomb_Bomb said...

Great job, Jimmy. Well-stated, well-written. And I agree with the assessment that Obama is but a man--he ain't gonna change shit overnight. Our country is not in the best of shape and it *will* take a while to turn it around, if, in fact, it can be.

But damned good job putting it out on paper, m'man.

10/10

Daniel said...

I thought your words were quite bold and I don't know that many people would even make the effort to bring such conversations out in the open.

Writing the words you wrote took courage as not everyone sees things as you relayed them.

I greatly enjoyed your perspective and am inspired to use a similar boldness when writing in the future.

Peter N said...

Sul, everyone has already said EVERYTHING...what could I add? My hopes are that the new President can somehow help this country overcome all the monumental problems facing it. A tall order? Oh yes, but I think (I know) he'll be up to it. Your words were fantastic. Thank you for that, my friend.

Carolina said...

Hi, well, animals give you great memories don't they. I liked your cat and dog story. Since you asked: Our cats and dogs are all great friends. (Really, I will put up some posts about their friendships in future. All ooooh and aaaaaah material.)
The pigs are friends with all of them, but the horses are a scared of the pigs.
If we are saddling our horses the cats and dogs walk under them and between their legs, which is quite scary. I think they don't realise there is a horse attached to these 'obstacles'. The horses don't mind that fortunately.
Although Willem doesn't like Holle, or maybe he likes her to much, but he always chases after her when she walks in their meadow, which scares the hell out of me. The chickens are friends with the pigs and the dogs, but not so much with the cats. No...I didn't put that right. The chickens ignore the cats and the cats really like the chickens, but for all the wrong reasons.
So, are you sorry you asked now?
;-)

Carolina said...

Sorry, me again. Took a look at the photo of you on stage! Quite flexible you were then! Wow!
And I love the lyrics. Has any other band played that song yet?

Rich said...

Great post Suldog. Very well written and you just about summed it up for me.

Suldog said...

Carolina - Thank you. No, no other band has ever played that song. If you know of one interested... ?

Buck said...

I didn't get out much yesterday... a five-hour 'net outage curtailed my surfing. And then there was The Event which took up a considerable amount of my time.

Well said, on all counts. I can't find a single thing in this post I disagree with... not one. I didn't vote for The One either, but like you, Jim, I wish him success. And I mean it.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Fabtastic post suldog...no truer word was said in jest!

Sandi McBride said...

You've been in my head again...
Sandi

Melinda said...

I LOVE what Daniel said about your courage, Sully. As you know, I've been an ardent supporter of Obama for many reasons. However, I found lots of truth in your words and want to thank you for helping me to keep my feet a little more firmly on the ground.
No matter what happens, I will always remember this as the first time that a politician inspired me. And no matter what happens, Obama proved that an ordinary person can do extraordinary things.
Wishing you all extraordinary things...

Dru said...

The best damn blog post I have read anywhere in a long time.

Ericka said...

very well written, jim! thank you for, once again, taking the words right outta my brain - and making them more coherent than i would have probably managed. :-)

Jazz said...

Very well said. He's not the messiah, he's a president who inherited a helluva mess. Hopefully he'll deal with it well.

GreenJello said...

Congrats on your POTD mention, Suldog!

Carol said...

I couldn't have said it better, Jim. Bravo!!!!!

Mel said...

THANK YOU for so clearly putting into words what has been swirling around in my muddled brain for the last few months. This was an awesome post.

Merisi said...

I have been brought up to see fellow human beings not by their color, but by their character and the way they define their lot in life. Having said that, I feel overjoyed that somebody born with no silver spoon, in a place and time where his ancestry was more a burden than an asset, with no connections whatsoever, but for remarkable hard working loved ones around him, was able to achieve what he achieved in his early forties and then went on to become president before turning fifty. This must be what the founding fathers envisioned some 200plus years ago: The best and the brightest, the hardest working, go ahead and lead the country.