Words not to remember in November 2008.
1. Wow -- it's Historic Election time!
Well, maybe, but also maybe not. The media always like to jump the gun on this "historic" stuff. We only learn what's actually historic in looking back.
The election of a president of mixed race, generally identified in the media as "black," sounds like a more historic prospect than it actually would prove. America's incorporation of non-whites into positions of leadership and influence is fairly old stuff. We've had blacks running major corporations for years -- Time Warner and Merrill Lynch, among them. Colin Powell won the national popularity sweepstakes, politically speaking, back in the '90s.
I'll tell you something else: White conservatives would ring the bells for Clarence Thomas, justice of the United States Supreme Court, if he were to run for president, which he shouldn't and won't. I've seen Thomas fill huge rooms with whites who would have expected him, 60 years ago, to mince his way in, carrying a tray of drinks. It's his character they like. The hell with race. He exudes depth and common sense.
These racial differences, let me tell you, are gravely overestimated -- chiefly by those whose jobs depend on the perpetuation of racial grievances. In this overestimate of the racial divide such people enjoy the media's encouragement. The media, thickly populated with relics from the culture wars of the '60s and '70s, loves to pretend that Ol' Massa is just waiting to raise the Confederate battle flag and re-enslave all those ungrateful ex-slaves. Yeah. Sure.
2. America is ready for transformation.
So said Obama, in St. Paul, right after the Clinton stand-down Saturday. It seems to the Democratic presidential candidate-presumptive that "generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and provide good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
Our planet began to what? Heal how? From what? Heal because Barack Obama, rather than Hillary Clinton or John McCain, ascended to the presidency? This is rhetorical gas of such delicacy that a Zippo in the room could have precipitated the extinction of St. Paul last Saturday. Save that Obama supporters probably aren't allowed to carry Zippos.
Politicians get unduly visionary from time to time. We do well to keep an eye on them while they choke with tears and manufactured enthusiasm. A president is one man with one term and a wilderness of challenges and competing priorities to grapple with. He'll get some things done. Most others he won't. Some of the things he gets done we'll later regret -- as may he himself.
3. It's youth versus old age.
I wouldn't be so sure about that. Slim and trim as Obama may be, and white-haired and battered as John McCain may look, the mismatch may not work to Obama's advantage.
Against the late -- politically late -- Mrs. Clinton, Obama shone. They had little, it turned out, to talk about. On all important philosophical points they agreed. Their jabs at each other were slight and trivial, large and material as they seemed to the media at the time.
McCain may struggle to avoid looking -- in the media's eyes -- like the old fool who couldn't find his false teeth if they bit him. And yet, in debate about the country's present and future, a Navy veteran of the Hanoi Hilton will carry an aura: one of courage and patriotic commitment and inner strength.
This is not to disparage Obama. It is to say that maturity -- yes, and suffering as an ingredient in the formation of that maturity -- are of large account in the presentation of argument, and of one's self as living, breathing argument.
Who knows, really, how this thing -- this election -- is going to go? No one does. Believe no one who says the contrary.