Saturday, January 05, 2008

No glamor please, don't break my heart

"People are lining up to believe in him. He has the easy demeanor (in a long, lanky frame) of someone who’s comfortable with himself. Even when he fires up a crowd, he doesn’t get too hot. He has the cadences that remind you of King but the cool that reminds you of Kennedy — John, not Robert." Bob Herbert - NYT
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"People are lining up to believe in him."

"Lining up to believe". I read this by Bob Herbert and I became very sad.

Now they are comparing Barack Obama with JFK. I'm sad that young people put that kind of enthusiasm, place so much hope, in a politician again. Most of all it makes me sad to see them "fall in love" with a political leader. I been there, I done that. It still hurts.

When I was a kid in high school I worked for the Cook County Democratic Party's campaign for JFK in 1960. I worked the telephones, I ran the mimeograph machine, I made coffee, stuffed envelopes. The night he won was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I remember before the Democratic convention, former President Truman going on national television to warn that JFK was too inexperienced to lead the country. I felt betrayed by Harry S. Truman.

Now most historians think Truman was right, that Kennedy's presidency was failing when he died. Many say that if he hadn't been killed he would have been a one term president. That instead of being vigorous he was desperately ill, that instead of Jackie and he being the ideal couple... why go on? We had "lined up to believe" and by God we believed.

The day Kennedy died was for me, like for most young Americans of the time, one of the saddest days of my life and no revisionist can ever touch that. It seems to me that nothing has really gone right for America since that day.


Time has passed and the kids are lining up again.

Nobody is going to "bring Americans together" with stirring speeches.
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge—and more."
How hollow that all sounds today, at least to anyone who lived through the sixties and seventies. The problems we have today, at home and around the world, have been brewing for a long time and no president is going to fix them, much less "heal" us, with wonderful speeches. In fact, sadly enough, America like most other countries, no longer can set a course for itself and hope to sail it against the wind and the tide. No words no matter how "healing" are going to change that. The changes have to come from the society itself, not from the leaders.

Frankly, I don't think any of the candidates this year are very impressive, but after eight years of Bush, the bar isn't very high. I would be amazed if any of those running could do a worse job than he has. I would also be amazed if any were too successful either. It is no longer in their hands to be so.

But please, please, don't let the children fall in love with a politician again, the disillusionment is not worth the enthusiasm and does terrible damage to an entire generation. DS

4 comments:

stunted said...

Sadly, I can only agree. Here in America we don't indulge in the self-examination necessary to determine how and why we enabled Bush to pursue our current destructive path, which is why two preachers came out on top in Iowa--we're looking for the savior who can lead us out of the desert and make everything better again, magic trumping reason.

Anonymous said...

Cynicism, thy name is Vietnam. Or John Wayne. Pick your own seminal moment of the triumph of darkness over reason.

But hey, whadarya gonna do? Most 'youths' are falling in love with their i pods. [The me generation indeed].

Young people have always been liable to the sell-out.

The Audacity of Hope. Could be a title for a book?

Don Bacon said...

The changes have to come from the society itself, not from the leaders.

Exactly. Who needs a leader, a commander? The military does; the citizens don't. And expecting that a person is capable of "leading" 300 million people is silly. Expect that someone with license will mis-use it, that's a sure bet. It's not cynical, it's realistic.

Presidents especially disappoint, but mainly because too much is expected. Their constitutional powers are limited in comparison with the Congress, but Americans aren't familiar with the Constitution so they expect the President to be the Decider. It doesn't work because it's not supposed to work. Congress is supposed to decide and the President to execute.

Take a cue from the youth. Look inward for strength, not outward. Trust no one, at least no one in government.

"No man is wise enough to be another man's master. Each man's as good as the next -- if not a damn sight better". -- Edward Abbey

melei said...

I'm a "youth" myself (23 years), but I spent the last five years earning a History B.A. and observing many of the trends that you describe, and I found it both heartening and depressing to hear them put so neatly into perspective for this election. My own hope is and has been for Edwards.

Beautifully written piece - thank you.