Monday, May 12, 2008

The Old Order Changeth

West Virginia has already made electoral history. Maybe that's why the Mountain Staters are not so all fired up to do so again. Back when Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert H. Humphreys and the like roamed the earth West Viginia gave victory to John Kennedy in the Democratic Primary of 1960. A portentous moment. The received wisdom was that, like Al Smith in '26, JFK's religion and ethnicity would do for him.

The good, hardworking, God-fearing white Protestant folk of America were not about to hand the White House to a Catholic Irishman who despite the detergent power of his pappy's money still had the smell of the boghole about him, the stain of Popery in his blood. West Virginia, crammed to the gills with good, hardworking, God-fearing white Protestants, unreceived the wisdom and handed the young, handsome, Catholic Irish senator from Massachusetts a spanking win.

A taboo was broken. John Kennedy became the first Catholic President of the United States. Make that the only Catholic President. Strangely, shattered taboo and all, no Catholic has been elected to the highest office in the land since, though Ronald Reagan became the second descendant of the "mere Irish" to be so honored. The fear that Kennedy would rule in secret league with the Pope of Rome seems laughable now but was taken seriously back then even if it was based on a radical misunderstanding of both JFK and John XXIII, two men who history has shown had a somewhat elastic interpretation of Catholic dogma. Indeed Catholic politicians in the US and elsewhere have shown a remarkable capacity to adapt the supposedly unshakeable verities of their faith to the demands of their careers and still remain within the fold.

All this is very relevant to the greatest taboo breaker of them all, the junior senator form Illinois. If religion can be a hurdle race is a pole vault. Yet if Obama has achieved one thing it is to demonstrate that being black is no longer a bar to the Presidency. It may still be a disadvantage with some folks but so are baldness, shortness and coming from Pittsburgh.

This is not something brought about by Barack Obama himself. Like the Wright (that name again!) brothers' Flyer he merely shows that it can be done if the candidate, like the airplane, is constructed according to the laws of political aerodynamics. Unlike their physical counterparts these laws are contingent and once upon time the color of the fuselage rendered flight impossible and later caused crash landings. Now Obama has shown that long haul journeys are not only theoretically possible but altogether feasible.

I first came to this realization long before I even heard of the same Barack. I was watching 24. David Palmer became President. Ten minutes later it struck me. Hey, this guy's black! I was of course aware from the start that the actor playing the part, Dennis Haysbert, was black but I now realized that the President was a black man. In other words I was not at all struck by any incongruity, any straining of reality to accommodate the script to some Liberal ideal completely at odds with plausibility.

I'm talking about Demi Moore as G.I. Jane or Geena Davis as a CIA hit-woman or a senior high school class of thugs and thugettes turning into so many Henry Thoreaus and Marie Curies simply because the newly arrived charismatic teacher believes, I mean reeeeaaallly believes in them! No such absurd suspension of common sense was necessary for me to accept Palmer as a viable contemporary American president. The rise and rise of Barack Obama has subsequently validated my instinctive reaction.

This is a cause for rejoicing. Martin Luther King was right and will continue to be right "till rocks melt i' the sun": we should all be judged individually by the content of our character not the color of our skin. No American should be excluded from any office because of race. Now no one is. All Americans can and should be proud that this is so. And grateful to Obama for demonstrating it so dramatically and irrefutably. A crushing historical burden has become lighter as a result.

Does this mean that Obama will be elected in November? No, but he could very well win. That's the point. Will some vote against him because of his color? Of course. The same as some voters couldn't support Kennedy because of his Catholicism. But, as with JFK, they do not now constitute a critical mass that would deny Obama a plurality. The country has changed on this issue. And for the better.

All the signs are that West Virginia will give Hillary Clinton a handsome win on Tuesday and pump more futile oxygen into the corpse of her campaign. Kentucky will most likely do the same next week. As may Puerto Rico next month. Yet she will remain the Leader of the Undead of the Democratic Party as she rallies her fellow zombies among the Super Delegates. She rages against the dying of the light but she rages in vain. Ask not for whom the sun sets, Hill, it sets for thee.

In the absence of a July Surprise Barack Obama will be the first African American to be nominated for the Presidency by a major party. This will formally mark the beginning of a new period in the tumultuous history of the United States, a period which really began in Iowa all those months before.

Whoever wins America will never be the same again.


christmasghost said...

".......who despite the detergent power of his pappy's money still had the smell of the boghole about him, the stain of Popery in his blood."
hmmm.... it was much more the smell of the bootleg whiskey that old man Kennedy made his money off of, than the bog that bothered people.and that whole thing about having his own daughter [sister of JFK] lobotomized because creepy old joe was embarrassed that she was retarded... behind his wife's back no less....and that's what most people really had against the Kennedys. and JFK was a phony womanizer just like his creepy old man.
sure...some people voted against him because he was catholic, but my family [protestants all] voted against him because he was a huge jackass.
and i really hope that's what people do with obama. after all...would you choose your surgeon based on the color of his skin just because you had never had a black surgeon before? isn't that the very definition of racism?
and make no mistake about it....obama would make Kennedy's hugely failed presidency look really great by comparison........

tvoh said...

"If religion can be a hurdle race is a pole vault."

You are a man for the turn of a phrase.

I am, as usual, jealous.