Barack, JFK, and 911

I think it’s pretty fair, given the pollsters and pundits track record this year, that no one knows how Tuesday’s mega-primary will come out–I’ve lost track of how many states are in play, but it comes out to something like half the parties’ nominating delegates. The general consensus is that McCain’s well positioned among Republicans, though I’m not sure, given the antipathy against McCain by the hardcore right, that a lot of Republicans aren’t going to just stay home.

The latest polls (see previous caveat) have Obama and Clinton running neck and neck, and since the Democratic primaries are proportional, it could be that they split the delegates, and the battle continues right up to the convention. But, after a good bit of introspection, I’ve finally decided that, when it comes down to it, I prefer Obama.

I’m of an odd age, coming in at the tail end of the Baby Boom, where I was too young to really remember JFK (I remember the funeral) or be part of the “youth movement,” and too old to be a member of Generation X (whatever that really is). I guess that means I can dig the Stones, the Clash, and Nirvana. I do remember Bobby Kennedy, however, and I can’t even listen to his voice without feeling a deep wound inside, in that he held the promise of healing a deeply divided country in 1968 and ending a disasterous war. And his death gave us Nixon, who–despite the incumbent’s qualifications–is still probably the worst president in history.

But I watched the Democrats, for years, yearn for a new JFK only to nominate, over and over, competent, non-charismatic policy wonks and be defeated by the Republicans. Bill Clinton, smartly, ran towards the center and tapped into a Kennedylike spirit of hope (in the nihilistic winter of Bush I), and gave one of the most exciting, inspiring inaugural addresses I can remember, only to get smacked down by his hubris and run the country like a moderate Republican.

And here we are in even a darker winter with a worse Bush, the pendulum is distinctly swinging towards the Democrats, and, if there was any time that I’ve truly felt this, it seems the country is hungry for unity. There was, for a brief moment following 911, a sense of the nation as one and of the world in sympathy with its customary punching bag, and I don’t need to explicate how thoroughly Bush squandered that opportunity. I think the hunger’s still there, and I think the right candidate, with charisma, intelligence, and nerve, can tap into that spirit and the hunger for optimism that characterized the early 1960s before it all went thoroughly to hell in Dallas.

McCain, assuming he gets the nomination, may have an appeal to independents, but, brass tacks, if he won, he’d be the oldest sitting president in history. He has a nasty temper, disheartens the Republican rank and file at a time when they’re demoralized to begin with, and his goofy humor and military freakishness about Iraq (read: still fighting Vietnam, that crazy steel glint in his eyes) would be a pretty damn interesting contrast with Obama’s poise and wit. Whereas running against Clinton would essentially be refighting Bill’s impeachment battle, which might invigorate the conservatives and turn off the moderates. I know a lot of hardcore Democrats want a battler in the White House, and that’s what they think they’ll get with Hillary, but you need the center to govern in this country, and I think the Republicans, who are poised to lose more seats in November, might be off their game when faced with a statesman rather than a warrior. When you fight warriors, you look tough. When you belittle statesmen, you look churlish.

An Obama nomination still seems like a long-shot. But it’s an exciting long-shot. And maybe, just maybe, one that genuinely wears the mantle of hope.

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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