As Bushnight Ends: Approaching Obamorning in America
by Mike Mosher
Ayres, McCain, Palin, Obama's cabinet choices and inaugural prayers... Below are ten scattershot impressions from the last three months of 2008.
I wondered throughout October whom William Ayres' literary agent might be, and how opportune it would be for she or he to make hay of Ayres' sudden notoriety or national name recognition. They could rush into print any dusty academic papers or presentation notes, anything to ride the boom being mentioned in televised speeches. As it was, Ayres nobly waited (unlike Revered Wright at the NAACP Conference in Detroit) until after the election to promote on radio and television a reprint of an earlier work. But there was something else about the GOP's diss of Ayres' past, casual support of Obama. Any time McCain—so old, winded and crabby—mentioned Ayres as a bomber, I thought Wait a minute, didn't John McCain do serious jail time overseas, something about an airplane full of bombs...? Shouldn't he be the one apologizing, rather than running for president? If there's anything the post-boomer Presidency of Obama has proven, it's that service in the dubious and problematic Vietnam war ain't all that.
Whenever Sarah Palin said, in multiple speeches or interviews, "And I love America!", I flashed back to an uncomfortable dinner with a great uncle and great aunt in Pomano Beach, Florida, one winter when I was in college. My great aunt (who died in the summer of 2008 at ninety) was mourning her recently-deceased mother, and downing numerous cocktails at dinner. in her cups, she suddenly, almost angrily, insisted "And I love America!", though no one had brought up the subject or questioned her patriotism or citizenship. Her husband, a retired corporate executive, sat stoically. In a while, the conversation got around to what I was studying.
A friend in Ann Arbor told me about three Halloween night teenage trick-o-treaters, possibly abetted by their liberal parents, who were each costumed as Scary Palin. These young women in skirts and blazers and narrow eyeglasses, hair pinned up, shrieked "Legion of Palins!" when doors were opened to them. One carried a flag, the other a shopping bag. The third held a sackful of flour, fabric sockmonkey arms and legs attached and dangling, X's for eyes, as the baby. Don't let anyone say Punk is dead in the city of its birth.
When the husband of a friend in Chicago died last Spring, she requested "In lieu of flowers, vote Democratic", and the traditionally conservative newspaper didn't want to print that line until other papers' columnists had a field day with the rival daily's snooty rectitude. Normally one to avoid crowds (and author of the best contemporary mystery story I've read), when she circulated to her email list the blanket invitation to attend the Obama victory party in Grant Park on election night November 5th, I assumed she was getting out and about. When I asked the next day is she'd attended--and wanted to write up the event for Bad Subjects, she replied to both inquiries in the negative with "I don't lack the patience to write about my experiences. I lack the patience to have them."
There was a black guy in my class in junior high and high school, very polite yet political and outspoken, elected to student offices and a steady voice for social justice. My late mother, who also described mixed-race people as "tragic mulattoes", used to say that my classmate would be the first black US president. He went on to a distinguished legal career, yet it was shattered by a felony conviction in the 1990s that many who know him still find dubious. After eight years in prison, he now works in the kind of job he would have had during summer vacation in high school, as he tries to get back his legal credentials and professional life. And Barack Obama, about six years younger, will be the first black US president.
One admittedly skinny black writer wrote that Obama's victory was a vindication for skinny people. I'm an artist, so I get to praise Michelle's athletic beauty (the third Williams sister) without appearing sexist. And how the rakish angle of her eyebrows makes it look, when she smiles, as if she's just played an impish prank on someone; just hidden a racy valentine in Barack's sock drawer.
Obama's detailed questionnaire his office circulated in November for office-seekers was intended to ferret out embarassing past involvements. This causes one to recall the former Bad Subject who took a job on the staff of the mayor in a major US city. He immediately requested his essays, strong with well-reasoned argument within cultural studies informed by overseas travel, on this site be yanked. One suggestion was for his pieces to remain under a pseudonym, but he insisted we remove anything that would connect him with us. There was nothing in them that seemed incendiary or ill-advised, and as someone told by the university committee that hired him, "We especially like that Bad Subjects site", I remain baffled.
In December, Obama filled out his cabinet, which the very intelligent guy seems to have been thinking about in depth for some time. We should all remember, he can dismiss, shuffle around, replace anyone as time goes on, as frequently as corporate re-orgs at Apple Computer in the late 1980s. Obama may think of Hillary Clinton in the same way Lyndon Johnson spoke of rival Bobby Kennedy: "Better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."
Somehow I see Reverend Scott McClellan giving the Inaugural Benediction as I would if Iran's Ahmedinejad had been invited. You have ongoing dialogue with the guy because it's the right (and potentially productive) thing to do. But support of California's hateful Proposition 8, or to host a "post-Israel" conference, should be enough to keep you from being chosen to say grace at America's holiday table.
For all its historic innovations, those of us in the rustbelt midwest can't help but have a weird, probably distorted, deja vu of Obama's election. For a generation now, we've seen black politicians who assume power in cities where effective operating capital and most of the white population have both long fled. Though the US doesn't have a black majority like Detroit, the state of the economy at the end of 2008 gives us a sense that Barack Obama is being given the keys to a diminished city, after the action and productivity and good life has moved elsewhere. Let's hope that's not the case, and that with significant reform, good years in America are yet to come.
Mike Mosher teaches drawing and digital media skills in Michigan.