Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama in Excelsis

Obama in excelsis. Obamamissio. The shot heard round the world. Let me quote the estimable sportswriter Red Smith, on the original shot heard round the world, Bobby Thompson’s 1951 home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.” But of course, no one outside the United States really cared who won the National League pennant in 1951. This was truly heard around the world, reverberating and vibrating with deep and profound resonances on every continent, and every corner of the world.

Do we have to stop and figure out what it means? Can’t we just enjoy it, and revel in its dimensions? I was feeling too elated this morning to have anything sad or depressed to relate to my grief counselor. Call it Obama therapy. Perhaps Obama can get his middle name back now. We should be proud that the next president of the United States will have a Swahili/Muslim name, Barack Hussein Obama. And I am proud to be an American, and not for something eccentric or minor, but for something that was wrought by a majority of Americans, acting decisively, in the exercise of their civil duties. Liberals and progressives have been afraid of democracy for decades, afraid that the people out of doors were inherently reactionary, and would if given a chance tear down the structure of civil liberties, and were a bunch of God-sodden jingoes lusting after foreign entanglements. We showed them. I’m not sure what it means for race relations, other than this does not, by itself, change anything. And that feeling good about yourself is an emotion that rapidly cloys. But this is the first great victory of liberal and progressive forces in this country since the mid-1960s. Everyone knows Marx’s famous aphorism about history repeating itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. I don’t know where 60s’s liberalism fits into this model—it probably was a combination, tragedy and farce at once. I hope the new liberalism, the new progressivism, the new populism, representing a profound rebuke for how this country has been governed in recent decades, and lead and epitomized by a brilliant politician who epitomizes its values, avoids those extremes. Rather than tragedy or farce, we need a politics of light comedy, a romance of inclusion, that resolves in a happy ending with everyone satisfied. God Bless America. Or, to quote Irving Berlin again: “Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my hearts beats so I can hardly speak.”

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