Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tonight the Lady Does Not Sing the Blues

Like nearly every rational person on the planet, I was thrilled by the election of Barack Hussein Obama. Living in Japan, I had voted absentee a month before (my fourth election eligible to vote, having cast my lot with Clinton in ’96, Nader in ’00, and Kerry in ’04). For the first time in years I regretted my choice to be living abroad.  Because America had changed, and in doing so had become a lot more interesting than it had been in the go-go 90s. For better. For worse. The powers that be should have been able to recognize this inevitability. Bush had politicized Americans like very few predecessors: the youth organized, soldiers revolted, housewives marched, many staunch conservatives rescinded their views. In all likelihood, a President Obama would not have existed without an incompetent like W. As they say, sometimes you have to hit bottom before you can go back up. Or if Obama had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.

Living in Japan with its seventeen hour time difference against the west coast meant that Obama was officially declared victorious in the election around noon. I had no television so I had to listen to developments on public radio selected from itunes radio. As the results were coming in state-by-state, new Democratic Senators and states gone blue for Obama (Pennsylvania! Ohio! Virginia! North Carolina!) I discovered myself hollering yahoos and delivering fist pumps, for what I believed I was witnessing was not a vote for the Democratic candidate or even Barack Obama but a passionate repudiation of the status quo: the occupations and wars, the financial mismanagement, the curtailing of our civil rights. When Obama delivered his speech, in front of hundreds of thousands in the cold autumnal Chicago night, I cried not just from joy but out of relief that there was a way out of the darkness for America:

For the first time in years, perhaps my life even, I felt shining pride of my Americaness. Oh, I’ve always been proud of American culture, its music, its films and literature, its muckrakers and its dissidents, the diversity and the friendliness of the average person but I loathed the government, the corporations who were controlling it, the kingmakers who pushed us pawns to the brink. It seemed to me patriotism for your country should have been incomprehensible when your government condoned unregulated greed, preemptive war, and the torture of human beings denied habeas corpus. I believe that when historians look back at the Bush era, they will find a society that had been gripped with madness and fear, a chicken running amok with its head cut off.

I do not think it was policy that was behind Obama’s rising star—rather it had everything to do with the man’s theme. In this hyperkinetic culture we have permanently entered, the medium is the message, and hope was what the man promised. Not in so many words, but in his charisma, his character, and his ability to inspire us to dream.
photo by UCHUJIN

So, because of the said time difference, when some friends and I wanted to watch the inauguration, it was inconveniently scheduled for 2am Tokyo time. We jerry-rigged a film projector to a laptop’s live feed telecast. It did not go as well as planned. CNN did not include Japan in its coverage area and BBC’s circuits were jammed. 

The whole world is watching

We ended up with Fox News, only the visuals were slow and choppy and quickly fell behind the audio, turning the ceremony into a bit of a spectacle. Therefore, part of Obama’s speech occurred when various dignitaries (and villains, Dick Cheney in his wheelchair) were rolling out to their seats. Like some commentators' reactions I subsequently read on the Internet, I was satisfied by what Obama said but I had not been inspired. There were moments—for example when he declaimed against America’s enemies and more or less declared the American way of life sacred—when he reminded me of Bush but with a more arresting rhetoric. To reference a comedian’s take, excusing the tough talk, he wondered aloud why melted cheese tasted good on Italian but just ruins Chinese food?

I went to sleep feeling a little bit skeptical about the disconnect between what a man says and what a man does. But I do think that all the hagiographic feting Obama has received might be a positive influence in the end. For Obama has an opportunity to be one of history’s most remarkable men, if only he be brave. To hope will not be enough. 

Finally the time has come, the time for action.

Let’s see what happens next.

1 comment:

  1. My 'more cynical than a boat load of cynics' head tells me that the bloated military industrial complex that runs the land of the free (and most of the rest of the world) would not allow a man to be elected, who even might be the catalyst for any real positive change.History shows us what happens when one of those brave individuals manages somehow to slip through the net - Grassy knoll anyone?
    My heart wants so badly to believe that Obama is really who he appears to be, but as I watched his inauguration speech I could feel my optimism deflating, I began to suspect that despite all the rhetoric this history making black man was not going to set in motion the war crimes trials of Bush and Cheney no matter how much America and the world wanted it, or knew that it was the right thing to do. Nor, I suspected would he bring about the radical changes in Americas health care system that will put an end to people bankrupting themselves and their families to pay medical bills.
    If he turns out to be just a new, all be it prettier and more liberal looking, face for Americas corporate war hungry economy then the 'hope' we have heard so much about will be crushed beyond repair.
    Whilst there is still hope, I hope that he can be what the whole world needs him to be.
    As you said, Lets see what happens next.