There. I said it.
When you grew up when I did, it's sometimes hard to understand why people get all blubbery at Memorial Day parades, or when "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is played, or when the flag is raised. When the images of your youth are of black people being sprayed with hoses while dogs bark, or young people screaming in the streets and being maced and beaten by cops, or of a young woman weeping over the corpse of a college student shot down by National Guard troops at a student protest, or of the napalmed bodies of people living in a village in Vietnam who did nothing to us, the word "patriotism" can be an empty one. When the people who refuse to admit that what we're doing in Vietnam is wrong slap bumper stickers on their cars that say "America: Love it or leave it" and refer to everyone who disagrees with them as "Communists", it's sometimes hard to think about love of country. And yet I think somewhere deep down inside, I always wished I could.
I knew what this country had done for my grandparents, all of whom came over from Russia and Poland with nothing. My paternal grandparents never quite made it out of poverty, but their sons both went to college, went into the Army, and were helped by the GI bill. My maternal grandfather was a district manager for a department store chaiin, and my grandmother had her own store for a while. The life I live today is because of the work they did in a country that gave them a chance. That's an American story, as Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said so marvelously last night, and it's one I forget sometimes.
It's easy to forget these American stories when we see our leaders trampling on everything that my grandparents believed this country to be as their ships landed in New York. It's easy to forget the beacon of hope this country used to be for my grandparents and so many others who came here before and after them -- before fearmongering politicians and would-be dictators decided that their power and their aggrandizement was more important than the country for which the flag they give such lip service to protecting stands.
I've seen many of these conventions in my lifetime, and there's a kind of reassuring continuity in their very hokeyness -- the three-sided state signs, the relentless bad pop music, the buttons and stickers and silly hats and people decked out in all manner of swag. Democratic conventions in particular are snapshots of the melting pot in action, with far more than just a few black people scattered around the arena in a demonstration that E Pluribus Unum
isn't just something to put on money. But this year is different, because this year the people of color aren't just out in the audience or Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton grudgingly given face time amidst hopes they don't do anything to alienate what the media so gingerly refer to as "the low information voter."
I'm usually able to resist when someone is really setting out to jerk my chain. I'm especially able to do so when the person in question is named "Steven Spielberg." But every four years, I watch the prime time hours of the Democratic National Convention, and for a few short days I understand why people fly flags in front of their houses. And last night brought the emotionality, the intense symbolism of this quadrennial exercise in self-congratulation to new heights.
For those of us born in the 1950's, The name "Kennedy" has carried a certain magic -- less so for people like me, whose Democratic parents practically worshipped the ground Adlai Stevenson walked on and regarded John F. Kennedy as the same kind of usurper that it seems many Hillary Clinton supporters feel. But even if you weren't swept up on the Camelot mystique, the Kennedys were always present in public life.
For Americans in general, the Kennedy Thing has largely receded in recent years. The political careers of the many Kennedy children have been either aborted (Joe III) largely quiet (Patrick), or short (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend). The death of John Kennedy, Jr. virtually assured that the last of the Kennedys to make a significant mark on the political scene was going to be the old lion himself, "Uncle Ted."
For sheer political stagecraft, it's hard to top last night. The last surviving child of the martyred president/myth/icon, every inch of her an undisputable Kennedy, emerging from a largely private life to help her terminally uncle pass the family torch one last time to a new, young, charismatic leader with a picture-perfect young family.
You could practically hear the gasbags of talk radio already screaming "Chappaquiddick!Chappaquiddick! Chappaquiddick!" -- because they have nothing else to say -- but you can't deny the power of the last of the Brothers Kennedy, puffy from steroids, only months after brain surgery, standing on his own one last time at a Democratic National Convention and roar from the stage about health care. At this point, a right-wing pundit corps that approves torture, that continues to support a war based on lies that has claimed the lives of over 4000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, that defends an executive branch that is criminally rotten to the core, and that's clearly inciting people like this to try to kill the nominee
, no longer has anything to say about Kennedy's behavior that night long ago.
But the real question of the night was not How Would Kennedy Do, because you knew that he'd do fine -- but How Would Michelle Do. I don't know if the "low information voters" (you know....morons), who clasp the notion that she's the second coming of Angela Davis to their chests as if it were a treasured talisman, were swayed, but I don't think Michelle Obama could have done any better.
As some others have noted
, it's a shame that Michelle Obama has to hide her level of accomplishment and the finely honed horsepuckey detector that makes her so appealing to people like me. It's a shame that the "Nick and Nora Charles" wisecracking part of her relationship with her husband has to be put on hold, lest those people be intimidated who have stupidly been voting against their own best interest for almost thirty years because Republicans are better at cheap symbolism. Funny how the PUMAs, with their Ellen Jamesian
obsession with Hillary Clinton, don't seem to care one whit about how Michelle Obama has to frame herself as ONLY a mom in order to pass muster with the same "hard-working Americans...white Americans" to whom their icon so pointedly referred during the primaries.
On the other hand, if you have two little girls like these, the older one already showing the her mother's poise and elegance, it would be hard to want to frame yourself as anything else:
But even if we wish it were possible for Americans to wrap their minds around the notion that a woman can have a high-powered career AND be a great mom, or she can just as easily choose to do one OR the other, and still be a woman who is valued in our society, I'm glad that this country, too much of which only knows Michelle Obama from right-wing pundists and smear e-mails and a magazine cover that perpetuates the very lies it tries to spoof, got to see the Michelle Obama that our nominee fell in love with almost twenty years ago.
I have no doubt that the speech was carefully written for just that purpose, and that Michelle Obama worked hard to keep that soft tone in her speech that's so different from when we've heard her snarking about her husband's smelly feet. If you want to be really churlish, you might say that trotting those kids out on stage is the height of political cynicism. But in a campaign that's loudly and clearly showing all the signs that too many Americans simply can't deal with anything that differs in any way from their own lives and their own backgrounds, who are willing to believe that a guy with a funny name can't possibly be a "real American" and who will believe the fliers about which Tweety talked about last night (but only after giving the Republican plants who are duping disgruntled Hillarions air time
), that claim he's a "registered Muslim" (you have to register to be a Muslim??), Michelle Obama's job was to convince these mor...I mean, "low information voters", that though her skin color may be different, and that she has this exotic last name of her husband's, the experience of being a mom is color-blind. Of course I think she succeeded smashingly. We'll see what the rest of America thinks.
I will say this much, though. Watching this woman on the podium last night, introducing her husband as the nominee, and invoking both Martin Luther King AND Hillary Clinton, and watching the faces of black women in the audience, listening, rapt, with tears rolling down their cheeks, I can honestly say that perhaps for the first (and I hope not the last) time, I am really, really proud of my country.
(UPDATE: I thought this was a pretty good post about Michelle Obama's speech until I read what Sara wrote
Labels: Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama, Ted Kennedy