November 05, 2008

First Wednesday in November: Obama Wins

In my recently less-than-sporadic efforts to bring you the latest news, I'm sure I'll be the first to mention that Barack Obama won the election and will be the next president. I'm glad for this. The alternative was clearly a very poor one and, of course, we're all aware by now about the historic context of his victory. This is big stuff, a sea-change, a climax in a struggle that began long before my own ancestors ever arrived in America.

I have followed the election closely for these past couple of months, even though I haven't had time to write about it. I have been all too aware of the hatred and panic, as well, that certain elements of our society have expressed over the impending turn in US history as my email box was besieged by dire and dirty "warnings" from Don Wildmon's American Family Association and their nethermost organ, OneNewsNow. To hear them tell it, we are all about to be swept up in a vast wave of stoned, gay, incestuous prostitutes in leather chaps, bearing pitchforks and crucifixes on the soles of their Birkenstocks. Their weather report, now that Obama has been elected, calls for periods of void-swallowing darkness followed by a rain of brimstone with a 30% chance of pale horses storming through the streets of America. In truth, or at least we need all hope, that these are the final fervent prayers and feverish visions of small people with tiny and malign minds, the kind that are ultimately drowned in the eddying currents of human progress.

In all honesty, one of the things that I most look forward to now that the election has been conducted and the ballots tallied is the impending absence of the whiny, shrill, nasal sound of Sarah Palin. I look forward, too, to the absence of scientific research being held up by the losing side every time they wanted to bring up an example of "earmarks" or "pork." Whether they understood basic research or not, the fact that McCain and Palin cited research into population genetic structure or molecular biology or a new projector for a planetarium — a place of science education — did not exactly endear them to this researcher. Had they won, I had visions of funding for research not entirely unlike my own simply vanishing in a puff of ignorance. They will not have the chance to do this, it seems. I count myself and my colleagues fortunate in this regard.

Aside from the historical coincidence (albeit an important one) of his ancestry, we have instead gotten a president elect who, as far as I can discern, is one of the most intelligent and well-educated in our history, and certainly in my lifetime. There are those to whom such qualifications make him, ironically, a member of the elite which, they believe, is a bad thing. There are those who will still judge the fitness of their governmental leadership on the basis of how much they'd like to have a beer with them, and those people will not shut up and go away based simply on the fact that their strange criterion has been repudiated by the electorate. On the other hand, I think that I would enjoy a beer with Barack. I would be very interested in sitting in a conversation with him without any beverages whatsoever, for that matter. We're not too far apart in age, after all, and more to the point I could easily envision a long and deep discussion of political and general philosophy with him. I felt no such thing in regard to McCain, certainly never have for Dubya, and I fear that were beer present during a one-on-one conversation with Palin, I might have sprayed it through my nose soon after she began wagging her chin. That would be rude, and I prefer not to be impolite when at all possible. The likelihood of any of this happening is nil, of course. I'm just Joe the Bio Grad Student and Obama has a government to run... and I have tarsomeres to measure. Still, my sense is that Obama gets it. He understands that the basic research of ten and twenty years ago is the technology of the present, and that once the pipeline empties it takes a long time to fill back up. America has dodged a bullet in a manner of which few people will ever be aware. It was a bullet aimed at our brain and the majority of my fellow Americans were smart enough to duck. Good for us.

So here we are on the first Wednesday in November. In about 60 days, ShrubCo at last begins its well-deserved dissolution and, we can be sure, a new track will be charted. We live in interesting times. Obama will need to exercise what I can only describe as greatness at a time when greatness may at best suffice only to staunch our collective bleeding as a nation. Anything less than greatness, anything short of a full application of his capacity to reason, to plan, to anticipate, is likely to result in a single term. Considering the smoking craters left by ShrubCo across our societal landscape, if Obama doesn't have greatness in him, it follows that we will need to find someone who does in four years' time. I am hopeful for now; the possibilities are endless and in most ways we have nowhere to go but up. Still, I am also a pragmatist, even in my idealism. I will say the same thing now to myself (and those who have read this far) that I said eight years ago: Let's see what this guy can do.

Having said all this, I do think it is important that Obama begin reaching out to the other side after this long and often fear-mongering contest. One way in which he could do this, I think, is to offer John McCain an appointment in his cabinet. As much as I loathe some of the tactics, even what passed for a strategy, in the campaign now ended, McCain should be given the benefit of the doubt and it should be recalled that he was not some fiend before the Ring of Power that was his quest for the presidency turned his Smeagle into our Gollum. McCain's strength, it has been said, was in foreign policy. He might be well-employed as a Secretary of Defense. Even making the offer would help to heal the divisions that were pried wide open in these past months. This might have another, even more important, effect in the near future.

Obama is in a good position, I think, to have an impact on the upcoming reformulation of the Republican Party. I believe that one thing that the GOP will learn from this election is that the base is not enough and, indeed, the very constituencies that make up what they have come to consider their base are, in fact, a polarizing power that precludes their having the support of more reality-based Americans. In the end, after all, McCain had to distance himself from Ted Hagee every bit as much as he sought to distance himself from George Bush. Obama could drive that point home with a few key appointments, I think. Few things could be healthier for this country, even for this civilization, than the showing of the door to the Dominionists and Millennialists by the party over which they have exercised enough influence to pry perilously loose from the reality of American life. We saw the base (and base they were!) "energized" by Sarah Palin, and we saw the GOP lose big. Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan have recently said the same thing, so I don't think this idea is too radical. It's time to disentangle that which was supposed to be the party of fiscal conservatism from the business of attempts to legislate morality. Giving Americans a choice of a party in which these two things are no longer intricately wound together will be a boon for all of us, even if we are not ourselves fiscal conservatives.

Which brings me, sadly, to the thing arising from this election that most drags upon my spirit this morning. It appears that Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage in California, is going to pass by a narrow margin. It is for this reason that I prefaced this long and much overdue entry with the point that Obama's win marks a climax in a long struggle but not the climax. Just as there will continue to be intolerance to people of African ancestry in places in America, even though one will be our next President, just so we should keep in mind that others will still be marginalized as well. Even though they lost the Presidential election of 2008, those small-minded busybodies determined to stick their noses in everyone else's crotches as a test for righteousness are still very much with us and they may very well win this victory, as short-lived as it is likely to turn out, on the West Coast of the United States. They are, and will continue to be, dedicated to a "culture war" in which our own culture makes war upon itself. They will continue to seek to do harm in the name of nothing more than personal belief and preference.

They will be with us, I am sorry to say, for many years to come.

It took nearly 400 years for people somewhat like the man we have just elected President to get the right to self-determination, the right to own property, the right to vote as a whole human being (and not just some fraction thereof), and to marry whomever they liked. It took generations to get to this point, and it took sacrifice and struggle and, yes, the deaths of some very good people brought about by some of the worst people who opposed them. This is the course, too, that gay equality advocates have faced. It was once a crime punishable by death to prefer sexual friction with a member of one's own gender. It is not so now. As long as there are people courageous enough to speak out, progress will continue and the tiny, malign minds will, in the end, be swept away by the current of human history once again.

The leather chaps are, of course, optional.

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