“Hey can you tell me which college Obama attended first?”
“Occidental, in California.”
“Well done — you get a free extra espresso shot!”
“Would you have given it to me if I’d got it wrong?”
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How long is this going to go on, I wondered, staggering away from Caribou Coffee to DC Union Station, a supercharged Americano in hand. Three days in and no-one’s stopped smiling, and this sense of freedom, of release, of possibility, seems to spread outward and inward.
Whatever happens, the sense that policy arguments, ideas might be conducted in some rational manner, not as some baiting process, some combination of free market mantras and religious fundamentalism…
On the train out to a cheaper hotel in a harbour town on the Chesapeake coast — and seriously what better place to sail into now than the harbour of grace? Even better, the locals pronounce it with a longer “A”.
“Are you going to Have- er, de Grace?” the cab driver asks. Oh yes mate , I’ll have the grace, thanks. Straight up with an extra shot.
Tim, the cabbie, is a skinny white kid with an eight day growth that doesn’t seem to have the strength in it to make it to a beard. He was the only cab at the station, and I’d offered it to a soldier behind, (what is happening to me?) but Tim had forgotten to renew his military base pass.
“I can’t go on the proving grounds,” he said.
“They’re called the proving grounds?”
The Proving Grounds. Is everything intending to symbolise itself today, like the mystical rose of Andalusia, that grows with the sutras of the Koran inscribed in its folds?
“Here on holiday?”
“In Have- er, de Grace? No, I’ve got to finish a book off. I’ve been covering the election.”
“You like the result?”
How did he say it, I wondered to myself. Did I hear a slowing of the voice, there, a tentativeness? Would I be taken to the Proving Grounds, pass or no pass? This kid looked like the “before” shot in a crystal meth prevention campaign. Or the “after” shot in a crystal meth prevention campaign in Oklahoma. I took a chance.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Yeah,” he whooped. “Wasn’t it great!”
Turns out Tim had a brother in Iraq. Or out of Iraq. Did two tours having signed on for one and one only. Blown up, f-cked up, in the second of these.
“How is he now?”
“He’s … not good.”
That lacuna needs another thirty stops or so.
“I was never much interested in politics till he went to the war. I still don’t even know why we went. This is the first time I voted.”
And with that, the Bradley effect passed to the status of a Trivial Pursuit question.
Now I guess I understand how people felt in the days after the Bastille, in October 1917, in England in 1945, when the Attlee government swept to power. The bodily relief that is something more than merely physical and more than individual, the sense of possibility that keeps generating new thoughts. On the train through Baltimore and out to the harbour of grace, we passed one of those new prisons that have become the stock-in-trade of US regional economies.
They all look the same. Textured brick, well-shaped, an absence of towers or yards. Nothing would suggest it was other than a mall or convention centre, save for the slit brick windows, too small for escape. And suddenly you think, could they could they? Could they wind down this mad, existentially sadistic living death of two million, most in 23 hour a day lock-down, banged up with a steel toilet bowl and time passing away?
What makes this moment different, different to Clinton, different to Blair, is that whatever President Obama might do, especially in the field of foreign affairs, I have every confidence that he understands what a crime and a tragedy the American penal system is … and the health system, and the social security etc … and that, however gradually that may have to occur, something will be done, through or by him. And that is not something I would ever have felt about Blair or Clinton, those tweedledum/dee global narcissistic tarzans, forever swinging on a vine into somewhere foreign to make a bad situation worse.
Cowards will flinch and traitors will sneer, but that belief in Obama is not the hope that he’s some secret socialist santa, about to pull off the mask and make Bill Ayers his Secretary of Education (though it would be a great pick). The belief is that he’s someone who has been through the left of the 80s and 90s and come to some conclusions about what is possible in twenty-first century America — not in terms of simple centrism or compromise, but in terms of a dynamic combination of the radical and conservative, the prudent and the audacious.
Though Tony Blair appropriated the idea, he quickly abandoned it to sign on to the global neocon narrative, abandoning any real attempt to reconstruct British society. Barack Obama is eight times smarter than Blair and has the advantage of being a real person, not a prototype of CNN’s election night holograms, and he has also been to the proving grounds, tested a few ideas against reality. There ain’t nothing occidental about all of this.
That is my take in any case on Obama’s first big staff pick, Rahm Emanuel, for chief-of-staff. There’s many aspects of Emanuel that will not be of good cheer to the Democratic Left. This is a guy after all who volunteered for the IDF during the first Gulf War, and is expressive of what my good friend Philip Frazer noted as the great unspoken truth of American politics — that a core group of the elite effectively hold dual citizenship and dual loyalties, and that any attempt to talk about this gets the “anti-semitism” airhorn in your ear.
Better still, Emanuel’s father was a member of the Irgun, the racist zionist terrorists who murdered thousands of Arabs in the 1948 war in Palestine. It’s the closest Obama will get to a real terrorist, though perhaps as in the Clinton years, Emanuel sr. will be quietly informed that he is not welcome at the White House (Emanuel is the model for Josh Lyman in the West Wing, but that episode in his life was transferred to Toby Ziegler, whose father was rendered as an old Murder Inc Meyer Lansky Jewish mafia killer — another example of Aaron Sorkin’s liberal gutlessness, though since the Irgun and the US Jewish mafia had members in common, he may have spoken truer than he knew).
In any case, it won’t be a big story on FOX news. My thought is that Emanuel is a great choice for the job — he’s inherited his father’s skills as an enforcer — and that it is specifically not a foreign policy job, but a discipline job, and a helluva lot better than Clinton’s chaotic choices. Gonna take a lot more than that to kill my Obama buzz dude.
Meanwhile, like the clown show after the history play in Elizabethan theatre, the Palin material just banks up. Apparently she thought Africa was a single country — well hell you can’t see it from Wasilla — and that RNC lawyers are on their way to Alaska to get some of those clothes back. Marvellous.
But an extra, really. The thing itself is what it is. We are out of the proving grounds and at least for a while we have grace, have grace, have entered the harbour of grace…