Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

So. We have a black President, a black Governor, and a black Chancellor. It is like they run the country, all of a sudden! From now on, fellow white people, let us be nice to the brothers. Our jobs may depend on it.

By way of full disclosure, I should say that I did not vote for Barack Obama. If we were in Indiana or Ohio, I don’t see avoiding doing so. But this being Massachusetts, I decided to do what I usually do during national elections: vote the little guy. In local elections and ballot referendums (no on 1, yes on 2, a no-with-hesitations on 3) I always vote my convictions. But my vote for President doesn’t matter, not a whit. Massachusetts shall vote blue, and the Electoral College shall ensure that my vote is nullified unless I vote with the majority, in which case I am only piling on the loser, which to me is unconscionable. So I vote for the obscurest, kookiest fringe party on the ballot. This year, it was the far-right Constitution Party, who just beat out the far-left Green-Rainbow Party by a nod. This does two worthwhile things, from my perspective. It nudges the cheap-suited, earnest Quixotes in the most marginal parties just a bit toward getting more campaign money from the government, and it puts a scare, no matter how insubstantial, into the establishment. “Gosh, someone out there voted for that nut from the Constitution Party”, the masters in the high echelons think, or so I tell myself. “We’d better watch out for those nuts.”

But I am pleased that Mr. Obama will be our next President. He was the more together and less laughably slanderous of the two candidates. Contested political campaigns are often fiery affairs, and quite frequently prove the baseness of human nature, leaving even the best man a little hobbled in the opinions of his fellows. We see the ugly side of people. We certainly saw the ugly side of John McCain; I think a little less of him than I did a year ago. Not because of anything he said in the campaign, necessarily, but because he allowed himself to be used so transparently by Bush’s handlers, who are toxic people. Obama, on the other hand, only lied like he has the perfect prerogative to as a candidate for American public office. He didn’t even really tell any huge whoppers, like George W. did to McCain in the 2000 primaries.

People gave Joe Biden flak last year when he said, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” about Obama last year. Apparently Biden, Obama’s future Vice President, has been forgiven, despite his objection to mute, dull, filthy and ugly African-American candidates. Biden is obviously a nod to criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy experience, which were valid ones. They are negated by Biden’s credentials as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This indicates something I believe will be central to Obama’s term (and perhaps the one after that): his ability to overlook past slights, quibbles and stupidities and hire good people.

Because let’s face it: Obama will not fix the economy, stop the War in Iraq, settle the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or make the trains run on time. He will direct people toward addressing issues in a manner that is either useful or not useful, and then matters will be settled or not. President or not, he is just one man, and cannot do anything more than one man is able to.

What interests me most about him, where I think his greatest potential to enact positive change lies, is in his symbolic potential. Every great President has been able to project himself as able to encompass something that is bigger than he is. What I mean is that Reagan was able to stand for opposition to the Soviet Union. FDR was able to stand for the fight against Hitler. Lincoln was able to stand for Union between the warring States. Obama will be measured by his ability to symbolize ? what, we don’t know. His moment hasn’t quite yet arrived. But I’m sure it will be something.

One avenue in which I think that he would be very useful is in solving the territorial divide between Americans. “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America: There is the United States of America,” he said in his famous 2004 speech before the Democratic National Convention, and in his Presidential acceptance speech he noted his intention to work with Republicans to find solutions to our country’s problems. I would caution about assuming that the culture war is about Republicans versus Democrats. It is about the underlying assumptions that make people identify most often with the Republicans or Democrats. Not all social conservatives are Republicans, and marginalizing the Republican Party has nothing to do with marginalizing social conservatives. They’re going to be around, and they have proven that they can be a considerable social force. Obama seems to be the type of person who understands grey areas, and can see compromise as an acceptable solution. Whether he is able to drag the left wing of his party anywhere close to where the right wing is perching, it will in itself be a remarkable achievement.

So that is why I say this: white people, be nice to black people! Black people, be nice to us! Conservatives, be nice to the Communists! Liberals, be nice to Bible thumping wingnuts! Everybody, just get along. I’m not a true-believer of Barack Obama, and if he proves to be incompetent or dangerous I and many other people will fall on him as heavily as people fell on Bush, and only his partisans will defend him, just as only Bush’s partisans now defend him. A house divided cannot stand. The Republicans and the Democrats can, I believe, co-exist peacefully in different rooms of the same house. In either case, I will vote for the underdog weirdo parties in the basement, the Constitution Party or the Green Rainbow Party. But there is room enough for everybody, and we should see our house as such.

Addendum: As I write this, in the middle of November, the air conditioners are on in the third floor of the Campus Center in the Student Life office are blowing cold air. Why is this? Indian summer? Isn’t the school “saving money”?… A few weeks after the distended walkway in front of the Science Building was covered in this space, Eileen Dranetz suffered from a nasty spill that she took after she tripped on one of the concrete slabs that was raised unevenly on the walkway by McCormack. This will not be the last time somebody seriously bites it on these panels unless they are fixed… Next week I’ll write about Motley’s finance speech last week. I want to get it right, because it’s an important issue…