Wednesday, June 4, 2008
A Place Called Hope
Hope that endures becomes a hope fulfilled.
There’s something vaguely early twentieth century Russian about the Obama poster above, with the single word “Hope” beneath the stylized portrait. But it’s one of the first interesting visuals in what will now be another “interesting” campaign for President in America. Barack Obama, the first African-American candidate for President, not only has to face today’s problems but the whole sad history of American race relations. As much as his nomination represents a giant step forward for our country, I fear two giant steps back when the ugly face of racism, which has been welded to our national DNA since Europeans first stepped onto these shores dragging chained Africans behind them, reveals itself.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time knows my feelings about politics, so no rant is necessary here. Some people trace Republican capitalization on racism back to the Southern Strategy. I trace it back to Rutherford B. Hayes, the (first) stolen election of 1876, and the abandonment of Reconstruction, dooming our country to reel from the wounds of the Civil War even today rather than allow them to heal once and for all. The visuals of this election, like all elections, hold the promise of the good, the bad, and the ugly, but the ugliness of this election may more fully reflect the ugliness deep within the American soul than any other.
Growing up in heavily Democratic Philadelphia (all Democratic mayors for nearly the last 70 years), I’ve seen several mayoral elections that should have been about the good of the city suddenly become referendums on the candidates’ skin colors. Fortunately, all those elections have ended well. I’m hoping that those campaigns were a prophetic microcosm of what will happen this November. I believe that we as a nation can vote not, to take a phrase from Martin Luther King, Jr., “by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character.”
All I know for sure now is that it’s going to get uglier before it gets anywhere near beautiful. Remember Masefield’s words in those rough times over the next five months: “Hope that endures becomes a hope fulfilled.”