Monday, January 28, 2008

Witness to History

Last week, I received an email invitation to a rally for Barack Obama that was scheduled today at American University. It didn't take me long to decide to attend, thinking that this would be an opportunity to see someone who may very well be the next president -- and I wanted a chance to experience for myself the excitement and electricity that Obama has been generating at events all across the country. Of course, when it was announced that Obama had secured the endorsements of both Caroline Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy -- and the accompanying sense that the Kennedy family had passed the torch to this new generation of Democrats -- it made today's event all the more historic (and with my love of history, one that I definitely wasn't going to miss).

When I woke up this morning, A. informed me that she had seen on the news that folks had started lining up at the arena on campus at 5:15 this morning -- and that solved the dilemma of whether I should drive to work and then cab to the arena, or drive straight there. I was expecting the worst when I arrived, considering it was almost 8:00, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was somewhere around 160th or so in line. Settling in for the two-hour-plus wait in barely-above-freezing temperatures, I watched as the line quickly grew from several hundred to several thousand, and for the longest time I was -- by at least a decade -- the oldest person there.

Standing in the midst of so many college kids gave me a great opportunity to listen to their conversations on just about everything imaginable: politics, sports, classes, dating, professors -- you name it. It also gave me a great opportunity to discover that there is still a divide between the enthusiasm these kids are developing about the political process and this year's candidates and acting on their newfound sense of civic responsibility. One young lady was telling a friend of hers that her state votes in next week's Super Tuesday elections, and she didn't realize until her mother called her yesterday that she never requested an absentee ballot -- almost with an "Oh, well; not much I can do about it now" attitude. I will say the funniest line of the morning was uttered by a young man a few places ahead of me in line, who said, "Well, I still haven't decided who I'm going to endorse." (I couldn't help but chuckle at that: Kennedy; McCaskill; unnamed kid standing in line...)

The line eventually got so long that campus officials had to break it from its wrap around the block and move it off in a straight line (one of my sister's sent me a message during the event and said that the news was reporting thousands more standing in line, traffic at a standstill, and people dancing in the streets). Despite the fact the doors weren't due to open until 10:30, they were opened 30 minutes early, and the crowd moved forward as calmly and orderly as a group that was nearly frozen could. Routine security checks, and then it was into the arena.

I was there early enough that I could have taken a position on the floor in front of the podium, but my back and feet were already hurting quite a bit after two hours on the pavement and I opted instead for a good seat behind and to the left of the platform. Over the next hour, the crowd flooded in; every available spot to stand or sit was quickly taken, and the fire marshal ultimately had to close the doors to the building because of the fire hazard (leaving, from what I understand, a huge crowd outside the arena). I was fortunate to be seated next to a nice older gentleman (and, when they could finally come in to find him, his wife and another friend) and behind a family with a little boy who was never quite sure why he was there, but was very enthusiastic when it came time to hold up his sign (and made himself the focus of several dozen cameras in the immediate vicinity).

Following several numbers performed by an a capella men's group from the university (the leader of whom joked on the microphone that they appreciated everyone coming, and had never performed in front of a crowd that large), the Kennedy clan and Obama hit the stage to a roar from the crowd that was indescribable. The enthusiasm and excitement that I had seen on television and had thought I had found was most definitely there; it wasn't even the type of screams and applause that moved across the room in a wave -- it was quite literally an explosion.

I'll say at this point that even with the interest I've been showing in Obama and his candidacy lately, I entered this even with this interest tempered by a certain degree of skepticism. After all, here I was, pretty much a lifelong Republican, walking into a room full of folks from across the aisle. I had even mentioned to the gentleman sitting next to me that I felt somewhat out of place, despite thinking of myself as a disgruntled Republican (a comment met with a smile and not cries of "Blasphemy!" that I would have expected a year ago).

I was surprised at the outset with an appearance by Patrick Kennedy (congressman from Rhode Island and Ted's son), who started the speeches with his own endorsement of Obama. I'm not sure if anyone really knew that he was coming, but it turned the backing of the Kennedy family into a sort of daily trifecta. Patrick yielded the floor to Caroline Kennedy, who took her turn at the podium to state her reasons for supporting Obama (basically the same points she included in the column she penned for the New York Times over the weekend); at one point, someone behind her yelled that they loved her, and she turned and gave a shy, almost flirty sort of smile and wave to the crowd.

When Ted got up to speak, I almost caught myself not listening -- he of the far-left liberalism, and I of the right-to-middle-of-the-road approach to things; what was there to listen to? Instead of listening to what he was saying, though, I listened to how he said it: that familiar Kennedy accent, the images of his brothers speaking before similar crowds in their own runs for the White House, the rhetoric that charged up the crowd and got them going even more than they already were. Agree with him or not, I certainly can't deny that he is a great speaker in the right environment at the right time, and for him -- and his family's legacy -- that time was today.

And then it was time for the man of the hour, and by this point I think that folks were hoping that he wouldn't delve into a policy speech. Senator Obama most definitely didn't disappoint, giving instead a very inspiring speech that touched on the constantly-delivered theme of change without actually using the word. It was a speech designed to inspire and to motivate; a speech designed to get folks energized and involved; a speech designed to get people moving in a common direction -- in fact, a speech that seemingly echoed the power of Robert Kennedy's famous little line: "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

He really seemed to feel the crowd, and it struck me at one point that he was somehow lifting the crowd from their seats and from the floor and symbolically putting them on the stage next to him so that they were all looking in the same direction: towards the future. He even got me, the skeptical gray-haired Republican, to move up on the stage with him.

I wasn't around for either Jack or Bobby Kennedy, and only know from books, documentaries, and my family the level of excitement they generated. Today, for the first time in my lifetime, I saw someone else that was reaching across all the boundaries that we in this country have thrown up over the years and bringing folks together to share in a common vision. Critics may say he's not really saying anything, that he has no plan, that he only appeals to a certain demographic of the population.

At this point, I still don't know for whom I'm voting, but to those critics I would say, "Be quiet and listen, and watch, and learn -- he's saying a lot, he has a vision, and he appeals to more folks than even I realized.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What Will We Do WIth This Opportunity?

Last night, A. and I watched "Bobby," a film that came out in 2006 and is the fictional retelling of the lives of multiple characters at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel in the hours leading up to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. I was pretty impressed with the movie, even with its not-so-subtle anti-war and anti-Bush messages (the latter being indirectly referenced in a scene where campaign workers are explaining the new punch-card system of voting, and how everyone should make sure that there were no chads hanging on the back), and was very struck by the way the movie did such a good job of what I've always imagined was the overwhelming emotion in the hotel following the shooting.

One of the most powerful parts of the entire film was at the end, as the viewer is able to listen to Kennedy's "The Mindless Menace of Violence" speech (which I had never heard). For those who may not be familiar, you can listen to it below:

I've been thinking a lot today about how much (politically) we have been robbed of in our history, and how it alway seems to happen in an almost cyclical manner (albeit in uneven cycles). The promise of John Kennedy gave way to the horror of his assassination. The momentum generated by the leadership of Martin Luther King was slowed for a time after his murder. And in the shadow of those events, Americans found in Bobby Kennedy someone who restored their excitement and optimism about the future -- only to have that, too, ended by a bullet.

Now, we're seeing a whole new time of excitement and the promise of bringing the two halves of the country together again after all the years of arguing and fighting and undercutting. Will we take advantage of this opportunity to start again, or will we let this go right on by and stick with the system that has turned 75 percent of the country against the president and 80 percent against Congress? Will we look back ten years from now and see that we used the 2008 elections as momentum to make a real difference, or will we be looking back and saying, "Nothing changed?"

I thought about a lot of this as I got out of the house today and took a blustery walk around Arlington Cemetery, stopping at the foot of the hill below the Lee Custis House and spending a few moments at Jack and Bobby Kennedy's graves. Looking at the flame reminded me of what we've done to our own country in the past, and also the fact that it symbolizes the fire that has been reignited among millions of people to make a real difference -- in their families, their neighborhoods, their cities, and their country?

What choice will we make?

Friday, January 04, 2008

For Ds, Rs, and Indies, a Great Speech

Even now, 24 hours later, this is still an impressive speech -- regardless of background or political affiliation. It's definitely one that will be remembered for quite some time, both for the significance of Obama's accomplishment and because of how good an orator he really is...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Caucus Day; How Much of a Prognosticator Am I?

For the first time in many years, I've gotten extremely interested in the outcome of the caucuses and primaries -- and at a relatively late point, considering how long the campaign season has already been running. Before the results in Iowa move too far along, let me throw up my predictions, based on absolutely nothing except my gut:

Democratic Caucus

Barack Obama
John Edwards
Hillary Clinton

Republican Caucus

Mike Hucakabee
John McCain
Mitt Romney

Update number 1 (8:52 p.m.): Democrats - Clinton 33, Edwards 33, Obama 32
Republicans - Huckabee 36, Romney - 23, Thompson - 14

Update number 2 (10:52 p.m.): Democrats - Obama 38, Edwards 30, Clinton 29
Republicans - Hucakabee 34, Romney 25, Thompson - 13

Enough of the results have come in that they've called it for both sides, so Obama and Huckabee are the big winners at this point. The Obama win is for me personally a mixed blessing: I really would relish seeing Hillary crash and burn in the primaries, but she's also the one candidate that I think would really unify the GOP in the general election. New Hampshire is going to be really interesting next Tuesday; can Huckabee keep up the momentum? Will McCain pick up where he left off in New Hampshire? Is Obama just the surprise du jour, or is today's win really going to put a hurt on Edwards and Clinton?

I'll put my predictions for New Hampshire up on Monday; now it's time to go watch the end of the Virginia Tech - Kansas game...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

200 Posts, But Not That Many Resolutions

This marks my centennial post on the blog, and somehow it seems fitting that it would come on the first day of the new year. Today, I'd like to share some of my resolutions for the coming year (at the end of the year -- or next week -- I'll give an update on how well I'm doing with them).

Keep on watching, enjoying, teaching, and learning from my two little ones. The youngest is almost to the point where she can start walking and talking, and the oldest is far enough along that she's starting to ask questions about everything -- chiefly "Why?" During the past month, a lot of the why questions have dealt with the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the angels, and she's also been curious about a lot of things going on in the world around her. It's a fun phase in which to see them both, but it's going to get more and more challenging; case in point, I had to try and explain to MB for the first time today about when people die and go to Heaven. I think I botched it to a large extent, mostly because I'm used to taking complex issues and boiling them down for folks involved in business and government -- I don't even feel remotely ready to take complex issues and boil them down for a child. Maybe there's a book on answering your kids questions out there somewhere...

Blog more. This blog is very therapeutic for me -- it gives me further practice and honing my writing skills, and also allows me to throw out ideas and thoughts that I have and try to flesh them out. 200 posts in two years isn't nearly enough, though, and so I want to get into the habit of much more writing and reflection (a hope that also applies to my off-line journal that I've been keeping for 26 years!).

Read more diversely. I tend to read in the same genres, and the same authors, all the time. This past year, I started to branch out into a few new areas for me, and I want to expand it this year. My big goal is to get through much of the writing of Yukio Mishima, Abe Kobo, and several other giants in the world of Japanese literature (in the English translations, of course). I also want to spend more time reading theological works, and learn more about other religions and denominations. I'm recognizing that my little insular Episcopal world doesn't answer all of my questions anymore -- but I'm not going anywhere; I think I can be a better Episcopalian -- and Christian -- by bringing more of a global understanding into my pew each Sunday.

Do more volunteer work. This in some ways ties into the global understanding aspect of the previous resolution. Our church, and many of our friends, are involved in a lot of different areas of volunteerism -- working at an overnight shelter for the homeless, teach English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, running a clothing bank for those looking for jobs, etc. And while A. and I provide financial support in a few areas, there hasn't been much at all in the way of direct, hands-on work. If I'm going to get more of a worldview, I need to spend more time out in the world. There are incredible numbers of organizations here in the D.C. and Northern Virginia area that are very deserving, and in great need of financial and practical assistance. I just need to find a way to get involved in them.

Be a more patient husband. I've been quick in the last year to point out to A. that she is sometimes too quick to lose her patience with our oldest -- but isn't my pointing that out to her a sign that I'm too quick to lose my patience with her? She said on her blog that she needs to work on patience; I don't think it's such a bad thing for me to work on as well.

And now, a few more crazy resolutions:
  • Going with my sister on an overnight tour of the Waverly Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the most haunted spots in the county.
  • Breaking a score of 100 in golf -- and that would be breaking it below 100; I've got the above 100 mastered.
  • Get so far ahead in our housework that it only takes 20 minutes a day to tidy everything up (or is that even possible???).

Happy New Year!