Monday, June 09, 2008

My Mom & Obama

With Hillary's belatedly departure from the race, and her inability to admit that she lost fair (i.e. and admit she didn't "win" the popular vote), and her 45 minute delay to start her speech on Saturday, I have had a hard time over these last few days believing that Obama had won. Has won.

I've just been numb. Numb and scared, waiting for that arm to reach out from the grave to remind me that the horror is not quite over.

There seemed still to be an unreality about the facts - perhaps an effect of so much reality being unrecognized these many weeks.

But late yesterday afternoon I watched Bill Moyer's, which I had recorded on Friday night. And watching this, I wept and started to believe:

As Michelle Obama once said, I'm more proud of my country in my life.

I'm more proud than I have been in my conscious political lifetime (which began at about age 5, thanks to my mother).

I can still remember her explaining to me the Saturday Night Massacre, drawing the figures and their relationships on a white piece of paper. And a joke - how do you draw a crooked man in a crooked house in a crooked city with only three lines? The three lines added were straight simple ones and what emerged, spelled out, was the word Nixon on the page.

My first political memories are of political shame - the Watergate hearings (why were my parents glued to the television, when we were on vacation in Vermont?) and the resignation of the President. I watched sitting on my parents bed, thinking I'd never see such a significant event regarding the US Presidency again in my lifetime. I was an 8 year old with a sense of history. I was an 8 year old also with a vivid sense of imagination, but I did not imagine Bill Clinton when I was 8.

I remember helping a Vietnamese family of refugees settle in this country, working with the church to paint their house, befriending the kids, and my sister throwing up the multicolored rice chips.

I remember a bag my mother gave me - blue, with off white lettering: "Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman." I asked her again and again what "estimate" meant. And t-shirts my 3 sisters and I wore that read simply, Vote Democratic. Some of us had blue lettering and some of us had red lettering.

I remember gave my first political speech in a mock election when I was 14. Though only a freshman, no one else in my high school wanted to speak up for President Carter. And I remember I wrote an essay about the hostages taken the year before. And I remember Ted Kennedy's speech that summer and laying on the floor of the kitchen, watching the television that sat in the low cabinet and really catching the bug.

And I remember I was not alone in disbelieving my political science teacher when he informed us that the profits of Reagan's sale of arms to Iran had been given to the Nicaraguan Contras. We'd all rolled out of bed for our 10 am class on Congress and not yet read our New York Times. He walked out of class to retrieve his paper from his office came back and showed us the headline. Well, he was a sarcastic guy.

I remember all the politics and history I studied at Vassar and in law school. I remember that all the glorious and good came well before my time - not just the facts of those subjects (even at Vassar historical facts were not much valued in those days) but the mode of study - social history, identity politics, deconstruction et. al. - averted me from becoming an academic.

And I remember the last 7 years of shame.

When Gerald Ford was sworn in, back when I was 8, he remarked,

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

That nightmare was nothing compared to this one. And I am beginning to be able to believe that this long awful, dishonorable, criminal, dark, national nightmare is almost over. That yes, here the people rule - can change who rules and governs our nation with the help of the changes the internet has wrought. And maybe, just maybe, God really can and does ordain love and mercy.

Those moments, those notes of politics and history are ingrained in me. It's why I live in DC, where politics permeates every particle and cell - whether at the dry cleaners, in a cab, at a restaurant.

And with the sense of shame over that history, there is also a sense of failure. Every single political campaign I worked for and cared about lost - Kennedy, Hart, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry.

(No, I never worked for either Clinton, though I did attend his first inaugural in 1992; but I thought then he was a sell out and because of him, I witnessed the House go to the Republicans for the first time in decades at a time when I worked on the Hill).

I wish my mom, who instilled the importance of those moments, were alive to witness this, this moment.

But this moment seems so foreign, it can't quite be apprehended as real.

I wish she were alive not just see the altered political landscape - with an African-American as the nominee, with the conservatives out of ideas, and with the Republicans lowering their sights to simply being able to have enough numbers to filibuster the Senate.

I wish that she could have seen and heard Obama's oratory skills and the rhetoric on our civic life. She would have appreciated and relished those abilities and their role in this campaign. She had been the first in her family to go to university, and she did so on a scholarship to study speech and debate. She'd been a champion debater in high school.

My mom, the debater and speech maker, and lover of politics would have loved to have witnessed the events of the past week, months, year.

Miss you...Maybe, Mom, it doesn't seem real because you're not here to share Obama's remarkable triumph with me, with us. Maybe it doesn't seem real because you're not here to talk about his win, to dissect it, and figure out what it means. But maybe it doesn't seem real because, most of all, you're not here to relish it.

No comments: