I was in Chicago for a conference over the weekend. Shall I name drop? I shall. I was on a panel and had dinner with Cornell West. Needless to say there was only one topic of conversation, wherever I went. In Hyde Park, where Obama lives, every store front had an Obama sign, ever book store we entered had a display of Obamiana in the entrance to the store. I suspect in Hyde Park the only people voting for Mc Cain today will be members of the University of Chicago economics faculty. As we drove past Grant Park on Sunday afternoon, the police barriers were already up, and there were about fifty or so of those remote television trucks already lined up. I can only imagine the scene now. Although there was some nervousness about the results tonight, the main topic of conservation was not if he gets elected, but what happens next. Cornell West advised that Obama is not a black leader. He is an American leader, and if blacks expect anything special coming from an Obama victory they are likely to be sorely disappointed. Others suggested that West was too pessimistic, though I think the fantasy love affair that many, black and white, have been conducting with Obama is likely to be shattered in the aftermath of his victory. This is all to the good; fantasies are not the basis on healthy long term relationships, and that is what we will need to create, starting November 5th.
Anyway, it was very exciting being in Chicago over the weekend. Unless all the pundits and polls are wrong, and Dewey does defeat Truman, today will be the greatest and most memorable day in the history of Chicago since the Fire in 1871, and even Mrs. O’Leary’s cow didn’t start a blaze that has burned as brightly or with more energy than that ignited by Barak Obama. But as Cornell West said, it is not the elevation of blacks to high position that we should be celebrating, but the promise that democratic possibility has to raise the least and the smallest and most despised and disinherited among us.
PS It was sad that Studs Terkel didn’t quite survive to see this greatest of Chicago days. And sadder still that the “liberal” New York Times saw fit to offer a redbaiting appreciation of Terkel by Edward Rothstein that linked him to Bill Ayers that utterly missed the point of what made Terkel unique. Yes, Terkel was perhaps the last living representative of the Popular Front, but what made so special was his sensibility, a sensibility shaped but not beholden to his left of center politics, that celebrated what we shared in common, and had moved far from slavish adherence to a party line decades before the Soviet Union went the way that I hope and expect eight years of catastrophic Republican rule will go this evening.