Tuesday, January 20, 2009

not even for a day

On days like yesterday, few actually find themselves at a loss for words while attempting to relate their impressions of the ineffable, and I suppose I am no exception. Just as Barack Obama's campaign demeanor offered comfort to a broad range of ideologues, so his recent utterances have been subject to interpolations myriad as those of the old Kremlin. What it feels like to me - what is so exhilarating about these days - is the notion that a revolution of practicality is at hand. An era in which dogwhistle rhetoric and the drifting redundancies of slogan are put to rest in favor of plain, informed talk.

Eight years ago, I was a college freshman in Washington, DC, where the awakening of my political awareness more or less corresponded with the recount drama and subsequent Supreme Court junta. I had attended the teach-ins about the sanctions against Iraq, I'd voted for Nader in some statement of impassioned aloofness, but these moments in late 2000 jolted me into a frenzied despair. A band of friends stayed up all night drinking and spraypainting slogans on t-shirts to wear to the inauguration, blinded by our rage from realizing that the next day's forecast promised 30 degree weather and driving rain - not exactly t-shirt weather. Many of us mobbed the route, spitting and chanting; Bush's motorcade mercilessly egged. I vaguely recall arguing with a reporter about the city's intentions to deprive protesters of the proper space to jeer. I had no way of knowing that this was merely the seed of frustration being planted, that the compulsion to reason with this Bush would only become more and more futile. I took to the streets against his policies a few more times after that, but eventually grew exhausted by the cops, the competing passions and calcified anger in everyone around me.

And so, eight years later, I spent this inauguration cloistered in a cubicle, surrounded by colleagues who dont appear to have unhooked their Facebook drips for the occasion, struggling with words for what this all means. Every new era in American politics begins with the perception of a righteous cleansing, a throwing off of the violated language of the previous dominion. I feel the urge to resist this just slightly. I'm concerned, for instance, with the idea of the call to sacrifice, which sounds noble enough, and certainly harmonized with the welcome austerity of yesterday's speech. I am one of the majority of Americans recently polled (and I can't for the life of me find the poll) whose income is only enough to cover rent and basic expenses. We've been sacrificing. It's time for Lockheed and Bank of America to sacrifice.

But I digress. It's an exciting time. For once, I feel like I actually want to sit down and read the newspaper, rather than turning to it with a feeling of dread. If anything, Obama's ascendance brings about the self-immolation of outmoded bigots, long overdue. Michelle Malkin and her kin are welcome to begin bashing their heads against the wall whenever they are ready.

1 comment:

  1. The theme of sacrifice, which certainly has been a common theme of Obama's speeches, is an interesting one. It could be read as simply rhetoric trying to reach out to both political camps by touching liberal sentiments about helping others while also connecting with certain conservative notions of patriotism. But perhaps because it seems so politically savvy it is also completely vague. For whom is the sacrifice called for? What does it involve? Where are these political lambs to be found? I think its certainly true that if the notion of "sacrifice" involves the lower & working classes to be continue to bled dry, or the sacrifice is the lives of American soldiers in some poorly conceived conflict in the Middle East than the answer is no thanks. If on the other hand we are talking about sacrificing certain notions of the American identity that are no longer economically or environmentally or structurally viable then this is no doubt the right idea of sacrifice.