Tuesday, November 4, 2008

That far-off distant dawn is here

TWENTY YEARS AGO, a transplanted troubador from the South wrote a song about events that occurred 20 years earlier, in the 1960s. It was a song about race relations in the United States, and I first heard it in the late ’80s when he performed it live in the coffeehouse-like crypt of a church on the campus of Columbia University.

Through lyrics woven together in his typically folksy way, singer-songwriter David Massengill of Bristol, Tennessee, covered a lot of ground in his song, from the days of the old Amos and Andy show to the integration of white schools, from church bombings to fire hoses and billy clubs, night riders and lynching mobs, all in an effort to stay "Number One in America."

Ax handles vs. the right to vote.
All-white jury; that's all she wrote.
Back of the bus, Don't rock the boat.
Separate but equal, by the throat.

Perhaps the most personal moment comes when he tells us about an incident in his hometown. The Ku Klux Klan applied for a permit to march there. What many folks up North don't know about Bristol, Tennessee, is that there is also a Bristol, Virginia, and that the two sister cities are actually one city, nearly seamless except for a state line. The boundary is the yellow stripe that runs down the main thoroughfare, known as State Street.

Virginia granted the KKK a permit to march one day, but the Tennessee side said no. And while TV cameras were triple-tiered to record the event, the KKK conducted its demonstration. But on hand to make sure they did not march into Tennessee were a contingent of Tennessee sheriffs and deputies, as well as hordes of white and black Tennesseeans who "laughed and cried and hooted and jeered" until the Klansmen disappeared.

And then David sang this verse, which has stuck with me in the 20-some-odd years since I first heard it:

In some far-off distant dawn,
When a black is president and not a pawn,
Will they burn crosses on the White House lawn
And talk of all the days bygone.

Well, as I write this in Wednesday's wee hours of the morning, that far-off distant dawn is just a few short minutes away. America will wake up soon to the first black president in the history of the republic. And the most amazing thing is, it looks like folks see him for something more than just a man of color. They see him as a man of hope, and promise, and youth.

We've finally come of age. Not unlike the closing tale in David's beautiful song, where he watches a poor white girl pick out one toy, that's all, as her family shops for Christmas presents they can ill afford. This girl picks out a black-skinned doll and holds it to her chest in awe. Curious to see her parents' reaction, our narrator is amazed to discover that the mom and dad are matter-of-fact; they just check to see if the doll is cracked.

We have, indeed, come of age.

I'll leave you with David's clarion call in "Number One in America." It bears repeating as we wake up today in a changed new world, where a black is president and not a pawn.


P O S T S C R I P T : This is for you, Aunt Linda. May you have an especially happy 96th birthday next week, having lived this long to get your one birthday wish!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Choking on his words

Rush Limbaugh, who I call Rosebud, is bitching and moaning about an impending electoral landslide by Democrats, calling it a calamity for the country.

Funny how he changes his tune when people actually follow his advice.

You see, over the past eight years, he happily has been telling liberals they shouldn't resort to the courts to legislate change. If they don't like the way the country is going, they should vote out opposing representatives and elect new ones who will pass laws to their liking. Make the republic what it was meant to be, a representative democracy.

Well, be careful what you say, Rosebud. America is about to vote out another big batch of incumbent representatives and senators and replace them with more moderate, if not leftist, Democrats.

You'd think Rosebud would be ecstatic. But he isn't, of course. I don't think he ever believed we could pull this off. So now that we're about to, he has changed his tune. He's bitching and moaning that it will be an unchecked power grab by the Democratic Party.

Well, let him choke on the ballot box. What Rosebud doesn't want to admit is that this is exactly what checks and balances are all about. We had a Republican in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress for several years (no bitching and moaning back then from Rosebud, was there?), and look what that got us: Unchecked pork barrel spending that made the GOP look like game-show trailer-park trash on a free shopping spree. (Or Sarah Palin with lipstick, take your pick.)

So now the pendulum has swung back in the other direction. Don't know how long it will last, but that doesn't matter. It's a check, and in the end, over time, on average, it creates balance.

We'll survive whatever comes our way. We always have.

Friday, October 24, 2008

We proudly endorse . . .

A friend of mine outside of Atlanta (who looks amazingly like the actor who played Tom Robinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird”) has been so excited about the candidacy of Barack Obama he is saving the text of every major speech Obama has given this year.

My soon-to-be 96-year-old great aunt in Connecticut is hoping to live long enough to see Barack sworn in as the 44th president, let alone cast her ballot for him.

Walking through a supermarket that caters to a lot of minorities, I find folks smiling, and I find myself smiling back. They know it's going to happen, and they feel good.

I hear it in their voices. I sense it in their body language. I see it in their eyes.

This is what it must have felt like in 1932, when a nation placed its faith and trust in a New York politician who told us the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.

This politician from Chicago has managed to steer clear of nasty, negative, low-road attacks on his opponents, and if he wins on Election Day, will be that much farther ahead of the game in uniting the country and making us feel good again.

This is the Hope candidate that our nation has been waiting for, longing for, since our previous attempt ran amok in scandal and impeachment.

This is going to be momentous. One of those watershed moments in the history of our republic. That the inauguration of Barack Obama will occur during the 150th anniversary year of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry and the bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln's birth is no small coincidence.

So please, get to the polls and vote. Become a part of history. Be able to tell folks ages and ages hence, that you voted during the Great Election of ’08. That you were there when that “far-off distant dawn” finally arrived.

It will, indeed, make you feel good.

Palintology 101

She's a maverick


We know a little bit more about this so-called North Star of the Republican Party since John McCain pulled her out of obscurity and thrust her onto the world stage.

It isn't pretty.

She was supposed to be a maverick. A reformer. A foe of big government. A fellow straight-talker. A hockey mom and an average Josephine.

Reformer? She played petty politics in Alaska and fired a professional police officer because he refused to dismiss the cop who divorced her sister.

Foe of big government? Spending rose more than 30 percent while she's been at the helm of state government in Alaska.

Straight talker? She lies everytime the name Bill Ayers flows out of her mouth. Talk about red-baiting. Can you imagine if she were a Democrat taking similar potshots at ex-POW McCain? She'd probably accuse him of palling around with communists!

Hockey mom? At the first chance she got, she went on a spending spree through high-end clothing stores and within a matter of hours spent more money than Joe the Plumber makes in a whole year.

Average Josephine? Not with that $150,000 wardrobe.

When Barack Obama rolls up a landslide in the Electoral College (something GW Bush never did) and the Democrats are masters of both houses of Congress, the only scapegoat the GOP will have besides John McCain is his No. 2, Sarah Palin. They'll be putting her on a bus to nowhere so fast we can only hope Alaskans wise up when her term comes up for renewal and send her back to the boonies.

Bye, bye, maverick.

The Manchurian McCandidate

Now that the debates are over, I can't believe this guy wanted to do 10 of them! It only took three debates for McCain to have a complete meltdown. Sure, he did a better job of answering some of the questions and getting in a few good digs, but when it was all over, I got the feeling it was way past his bedtime.

Forget about calling him at 3 in the morning, Hillary. He won't hear the phone ring.

There should be some sort of mercy rule so this guy doesn't go off the deep end before it's over. End it now. Go out with some dignity. You're going to have nothing left if you keep going like this.

He lauds Joe Sixpack and Joe the Plumber, but he's no Joe Paterno. Seventy-three years is a lot of water under the bridge, and old man McCain can't tread water that long.

So play Taps, retire your colors, and live to fight another day in the United States Senate, where you used to be an honorable and sane man.

Say goodnight, John.