Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hope

As I reveled in the optimism spawned by Obama's election, it occurred to me that he is the first president in my lifetime who is actually younger than me.

At 47, Barak Obmama is also the first President who is of my generation, so to speak. Bill Clinton, while fairly young, was still from a generation just prior to my own, and thus, though he was cool, he did not, alas for us, 'inhale'. Obama, on the other hand, is more than young and cool, in the way that has nothing to do with inhaling, but everything to do with hope for change. This, I suspect, was the same hope that President Kennedy represented for my parent's generation.

I know, of course, that there were plenty of Americans who despised Kennedy, because now I know how polarized our country is and has been for many generations now, and that his margin of victory was slim at best. But as a child whose parents clearly respected and admired Kennedy, I had the impression that he was a popular, if not the most popular President, an impression actually formed well after his death.

In some ways it was because of his death--or the way he died--that this political consciousness was born in my brain. The day was November 22, 1963, and I was in my second grade classroom when the Principal came on the loudspeaker and announced to the class that the President had been shot and killed. School was out that day, and I do not recall much more about it on going home. I do recall how my teacher began to cry, and how upset my parents, particularly my Mother was. I was seven at the time, and understood well enough what it meant to die, though I had no sense of how devastating this was for the idealists like my parents, whose time it seemed had come and gone in all too brief a moment.

The fact that it was a Texan in the White House mattered little other than to drive home the differences between Kennedy and Johnson. Though he was a good man, with what my parents considered to be good intent--where have I heard this one before?--Johnson did not have the grace, the excitement or the optimism that Kennedy represented to intellectuals like them.

Ironically, after his death, they remembered Kennedy not so much for what he did, but for the vast potential for change that they had lost. In death, to Lynda in particular, his was the perfect Presidency, a 'fact' I only later learned to be false in the larger political context that emerged in the Sixties.

Now, since I came of age in the early seventies, Nixon's presidency was for me the 'Anti-Presidency'. This was to stand until Bush, Jr. ascended to that title, and though Clinton gave us some change and reason to hope, his peculiar blunders cost him, and us, more than it ought to have.

But hope has returned to my horizon. I know now what my parents must have felt now nearly a half-century ago. How time flies!

So, now we have another President cut from the same cloth in Obama. At a time in my life when it is at such a premium, I am pleased to feel again s sense of hope.

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