August 3, 2010

Same ol’, Same Oil. (Part 1). ~ Carah Wertheimer

Beyond Petroleum, Beyond Obama

I think many of us who voted for change are just about as out of breath, just as weighted down, and as far from taking flight as those oil soaked pelicans we watch day after heartbreaking day. Images of the dripping brown birds repeat like a cassette tape looping on auto reverse, differentiated only by the color of a particular afternoon’s sky and whether the bird is actively flailing or hopelessly stuck. One after another, every day produces a different bird and yet it’s all the same. Are we moving forward or just endlessly flapping our collective wings in some kind of Bermuda Triangle time warp vortex?

Perhaps the ghastly necrotic marine imagery of the past months is emblematic reflections, like a bad but very vivid and heavily symbolic dream, of what the progressive collective psyche is experiencing. Days turn into weeks and into months as we watch the Obama administration abandon and betray us, its loyal and hardworking electoral flock. Like oil-soaked planks collapsing one after another on a gulf coast pier, so goes Obama’s campaign platforms and promises, sinking into the now polluted waters of the Obama presidency. I for one know that heavy sinking feeling, the loss of a certain hope and ability to fly, as I have watched and sadly realized that the movie playing on the screen before me is certainly not the one I lined up for on election day.

I am not a diehard for Obama. I did not campaign for him nor become completely overtaken by the fervent belief that the simple election of one man could change the trajectory of the country. Despite the tidal wave of quasi-religious Obamania around me, I held to what some would call a more cynical belief that the true power brokers do not appear on the nightly news, and that the halls of government, while they may once have been the heart and soul of a thriving democracy, have become merely a decorative front for a shadow power structure hidden largely from public view. (Call me a conspiracy theorist, but if you can show me that elected officials are actually responding to the will of the electorate, or that Democrats are substantially different from Republicans, I’d love to meet for coffee, my treat.)

Nonetheless, I was an unabashedly huge fan of Obama’s candidacy. I cheered this guy on like never a candidate before, gobbling up the daily ins and outs of the campaign like media candy. I liked and trusted him personally, or at the very least his persona, because of course how can you really trust someone that you’ve never met and don’t actually know. But there was some ineffable quality of genuineness and authenticity about him that struck me as real, and it was palpable even across the airwaves.

But it wasn’t just vibes, or so I thought. I staked my trust in his background as a community organizer, in the soul searching and character building that his mixed race and culturally complex childhood seemed to have engendered, and equally important, in the fine and socially conscious, very strong woman that his mother appeared to be. That woman, I thought, had raised a good man, a man who would do the right thing, who would honor her memory with his actions.

I admired and respected the way he ran his campaign, applying new and untested approaches to grassroots mobilizing, and choosing integrity and dignity over low-ball political slime tactics. That kind of character, innovation, and resourcefulness is what the country desperately needs, I thought. Despite being female I never took any particular gender pride in Hillary Clinton, given that she had ridden to power on her husband’s coattails and seemed like a female version of much of what had come before. However, Obama was different and lit the pilot light of hope like no one ever had.

OK, I admit it. I fell in love with this renegade mulatto beam of light who seemed to transcend the bitterness of America’s racial divide and radiate out a healing balm of hope and calm that called forth our better angels. I cheered as I watched him emerge from seemingly nowhere to upset the political establishment as I had never seen in my lifetime, dethroning the Clintons and ending the Bush-Clinton ping-pong game that had overtaken the White House. That alone was enough to garner my devotion; the sheer inspiration that he provided to millions and the rejuvenation of a terminally moribund political process was more than enough to uplift me, heart and soul.

While I curbed my expectations with an awareness of the limited power of elected officials in our current system, I too drank the miracle savior kool-aid as it applied to him as a person. While perhaps not Christ on the cross or Buddha under the tree, I did see him as another Lincoln, Kennedy, Martin Luther King or Roosevelt. Here was our great white hope riding in on horseback to save the day. Only this time, and better ye, he was of mixed race, a sign of the truly transformational nature of the change we were collectively embarking upon. Finally, at last, America had lit the match and was stepping over the smoking corpse of its racial past, and into the fulfillment of its long held democratic promise. For if our hateful bigotry and legacy of injustice could begin to be overcome, and the political establishment cracked open, anything was surely possible.

Or so it appeared on election day.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article.

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