Monday, November 10, 2008

Election Afterglow and Acrimony

I kept the front page of the Austin American Statesman from last Tuesday announcing the historic news...Barack Obama had become the nation's first African-American President. It has now been a full week since the results have had a chance to sink in, and frankly I am a little disoriented by the reactions...both positive and negative. In the interest of full disclosure, I voted for Obama and cheered when he emerged victorious from the fray...and I am not casually tossing around terms here...this election was a fray in every sense of the word. As a child of the 50's and a teenager in the 60's, I witnessed on television the struggles of African-Americans and those who stood with them in the quest for equality under the law. I saw with my own eyes the rage and bitterness in my own family and with my classmates as in my 7th grade year segregation was outlawed in Baton Rouge and my public school became open to students of any race. There were black kids beaten up in the bathrooms, behind the stadium after school as well as exclusion and ridicule at lunch and during assemblies. It was ugly for a while, but but by the time I became a freshman, the incidents in school (there were still many in the culture) became rare and quickly dealt with. One classmate that I admired the most was Agnes Jackson. She was smart and articulate and was genuinely one of the kindest people at our school. I kinda had a little crush on her, but never acted on it, mostly because I was a coward and knew it would be ugly at home with my dad and granddad. We had several classes together down through our high school years and we worked together on a English project in Ms. Peavey's lit class, and Agnes told me bad "knock knock" jokes...but that was the extent of our friendship... random, forced and not very authentic. It makes me sad to think that I really was an idiot and cluelessly overlooked the possibility of a valuable relationship. Of course she was probably saying..."OK I have to work with this loser in class but, after that, I'm outta here." Agnes graduated near the top of our class and went off to study at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, which at the time was an exclusive women's is now part of Harvard University. I haven't heard from her or about her since high school. My point in that long story is to say that after the news of the Obama victory, one of the first people I thought of was Agnes, whom I had not thought of in years. I think the reason she came to mind was that I remember believing back in high school, that if we ever could have a woman president, Agnes could be that woman. It made me sad that it had taken so long for the color barrier to be broken and, had me wondering how much longer it would be until we had a woman in that office. If Agnes is interested, I'm writing her in in 2012. It has made me proud to be an American to watch millions of citizens of all races exult in the long-awaited reality of a person being elected to the highest office in the land, without regards to race or gender.

The part that has particularly disoriented me, however, is the flood of ugly, mean-spirited, and outrageous things that have been said following Obama's victory. There will always be sore losers in any competition, from livingroom monopoly games and Little League contests on the sandlot, to the presidential race. I've been particulary impressed with John McCain's gracious and encouraging congratulations of Obama's victory as well as his pledge to work together with the President-elect in the future. But when conservative radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh declares that he is not ready to work together for the good of the country because he believes the new president cannot be trusted...that is something I have NEVER heard in my years on the planet. Buck Burnette, an admirable, healthy, seeming role model of a young man was dismissed from the University of Texas football team last week after placing a regrettably, racist comment on his Facebook status immediately following the election results. That was a costly oops... Speaking of Facebook, my beautiful youngest daughter pointed out to me a new poster that Facebook members can choose to post on their profile that has a tombstone on it that bears the inscription, "The United States of America...Born July 4th, 1776...Died November 4th 2008". You probably have seen or heard many more. I have always heard that you should avoid talking about three particular subjects if you want to keep out if trouble...race, religion and politics. Unfortunately for many, those three subjects have been inexorably intertwined throughout this election and keep the fires of bitterness and anger stoked.

While I supported Obama, I do not agree with him on every issue, and I do not think he is our next political or religious messiah. What I do think is that for the first time in a long time we have a legitimate shot at stopping long enough to examine the way we've done business with each other and with the world, and we have a man at the helm whose priorities are focused on the "least of these" as well as the powers that be. I'm reminded of a poet, Thiruvalluvar, who wrote a generation before the birth of Christ these words of prophecy, "The only gift is giving to the poor. All else is exchange." My prayer for our President-elect is that he will not be deterred from returning this nation to a people of service, compassion and generosity, and that he will surround himself with people of integrity and intellect and courage. The task is daunting and he will make some mistakes, but I long to follow a leader who is willing to err on the side of love and sacrifice, rather than control and ego. And, I'll readily admit to being naive and idealistic.

...Or I could just write-in Agnes Jackson's name for Commander-In-Chief in the next election.