"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop."
Martin Luther King
April 3, 1968
Readers of my old blog, the Whiskey Bar, probably know I have had a long and conflicted relationship with the Democratic Party -- one that generally ranges between reluctantly supportive (on the really good days) to utterly disgusted (most days).
To compare it to a bad marriage would be an insult to unhappy couples everywhere.
- billmon's diary :: ::
My discontents are probably shared by many of you, maybe most of you: The overpowering influence of corporate money, the puerile cluelessness of the Democratic consultant class, the repeated betrayals of those who most need the party to stand and fight for them (Biden, cough, bankruptcy "reform") And my biggest policy heartache: The party's reflexive support for a completely deranged "bipartisan" foreign policy agenda -- the very parade of folly that landed us in Iraq and is now stumbling on in the general direction of Tehran (or the Russian frontier, or both).
Mostly, I just wish the party would grow a backbone, or at least an exoskeleton -- anything that would keep it standing upright in a fight, instead of collapsing into a quivering blob of goo whenever the battle heats up. I disagreed with the late Steve Gilliard about many things, but I always agreed with him about one thing: The need to fight back.
But there are loyalties that go deeper than policies, deeper than ideas, deeper, even, than folly and cowardice. When I turn on the TV and see the crowd at a Democratic National Convention -- black and white and every shade in between, Anglo and Hispanic, gay and straight, old and young, Jew and gentile, I know somewhere deep down in my gut that those are my people, the Americans that I want to be my fellow Americans.
Maybe that emotional loyalty is why I've never quite been able to throw in my lot with the Greens or the Democratic Socialists or Ralph Nader (in the latter case it also helps that the guy is a complete a**hole), even though their beliefs and positions are probably closer to mine than the Democratic Party's will ever be, even in the Glorious People's Republic of Obamastan.
For better or worse, the Democratic Party is the rock; all else is the sea -- to steal Frederick Douglass's old line about a different (very different) Republican Party. It's the only political organization in the country that offers even a remote prayer of advancing a progessive agenda.
But that's pretty weak beer most days: More of an apology than an argument.
This evening, though, I watched something happen that I was solid sure would never happen in my lifetime, or probably my children's lifetimes: A major American political party just nominated an African American as its candidate for the presidency of the United States -- the big job, the Leader of the Free World, the whole enchilada.
Watching it on C-SPAN, I saw a closeup shot of an African American delegate after Nancy Pelosi banged the gavel down. She was hugging the delegate next to her (a white woman) And the tears were pouring down her cheeks.
I dunno, I guess that's when it hit me -- the enormity of what I'd just seen. It may not mean as much to you youngsters (get off my lawn!) but for someone of my age, who grew up in the dying days of segregation, who still remembers the colored and white drinking fountains and the monochrome lunch counters, who saw Washington DC burn the night Martin Luther King was killed -- who, in some sense, has essentially spent his whole life living in the shadow of American racism, it was completely mindblowing. The party of Jefferson Davis and George Wallace (but also of FDR and Bobby Kennedy) had just chosen a black man as its standard bearer -- and the Gods willing, as the country's next leader.
I know there are those who will say I'm making too much of this -- that Obama is more than just "the black candidate" (literally true, since us Caucasians have a 50% genetic claim to him as well) or that the minor detail of his race is not sufficient compensation for his conservative stand on issue A or his opportunistic sellout on piece of legislation B.
I don't care. I know I shouldn't make too much of this, but I sure the hell am not going to make too little of it, either. Not coming from where I come from. The gates of heaven haven't opened, the Red Sea hasn't parted, the Millennium definitely isn't at hand (I hope), but win or lose in November, this country is never going to be the same again. Nor will my assumptions about what is or is not politically possible.
Maybe the old lie that anyone can grow up to be president is still just that -- an old lie. But now we know that any child (man child at least) can grow up and become the presidential candidate of one of the country's two main political parties -- because the Democrats just proved it. (And eight years from now, I hope the party extends that same promise to every child, not just to those of us who are gender-challenged.)