By the time I was six years old, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy had met violent assassinations, the Vietnam War and its graphic casualties were on the news everyday, black kids getting hosed in the streets of southern cities and towns, the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Kent State and probably a few others that memory fails to recall.
And then Richard Nixon came along.
This will strike some of you as odd (that is if there is anyone reading this) but even at that age I knew something was wrong with that guy. Call it child’s intuition, but something about him bugged me in a large way. My mother tells me that in 1972 I was making my own anti-Nixon flyers and passing them in the street. I have no memory of this, but I have to say it sounds right.
I remember watching Nixon’s resignation speech on that warm summer night. I was 11 by that time.
Then there was Ford who said that our long national nightmare was over, and then he pardoned the criminal ex-president. And then he tripped a lot.
After Ford came Carter. I remember the slogan “Trust me” and not liking it at all. But he wasn’t Ford, so I figured he’d be a step up. I wasn’t too right. Now my dislike of Carter’s presidency had less to do with the hostage situation or the economy. What irked me about Carter was his way too militant stance on the Soviet Union and his decision to boycott the Olympics.
November of 1980. My first election. On election day I asked my theater professor to allow me to tag a ride from college back into the city so I could vote. That night I sat in a bar called Hanratty’s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with my father and wept into my beer. I wept because Ronald Reagan was clearly going to win. I wept because Jimmy Carter was the only alternative to Ronald Reagan. I wept because by that time, the experience I was having of my country was one of astounding arrogance, violence and egotism. I wept because I was fully understanding that so rarely does one get to vote FOR someone so much as vote against.
I wept, because I felt that the country I lived in was a country of great promise that acted as if it had already delivered on that promise and was far far far from it.
Believe it or not, growing up I still loved The United States and what it stands for that entire time. Few who knew me in those days would believe that because I ranted continually on how this country sucked. But it was because of the lies and violence I grew up watching.
Reagan, well…that’s a disaster we are still paying for. Then GHW Bush. My brother said it best when he won the election. “There is no such thing as an ex-head of the CIA” Too much conflict of interest. Too much lack of care. One day I’ll put down a rant on the entire Bush family, from Nazi Sympathizer Prescott down to Jeb’s crack addicted children, but that’s another night.
Then Bill Clinton. A man of promise, great promise and good words. I flipped the lever for him with some reluctance, only because while I liked his words, something about him seemed off. Turned out it was his dick and a lack of ability to truly consolidate his political genius in a way that truly turned the tide on the previous 12 years.
A lot of blame is laid at Clinton’s feet for W’s mistakes...ways of diverting responsibility, but we do have to admit that Clinton did have something to do with our current financial situation and the failure of true Welfare Reform. Blaming Clinton for 9/11 however is wishful thinking on W apologists’ parts.
What followed Bill is the unspeakable anti-American, anti-Constitutional activities of the W. Administration.
Can you wonder that my world view is often bitter and angry? But that bitterness and anger rises out of a love of this country, its heart and soul and the genius of the flawed men that founded it.
This year, slowly but surely I came for the first time to vote FOR someone. I watched as the kind of philosopher leader I had longed for for my whole life steadily, surely and calmly won the election for President of the United States.
I watched proudly along with 35 million other people on our televisions and 2 million braved ridiculous cold to watch him somewhat clumsily inaugurated. I feel inspired.
I am now not only proud of America’s promise, but its behavior.
I said a few days ago that perhaps we needed the last 8 years to sink so low that we had to long for sunlight so much that we drank it like starving artists for lunch.
Today I watched President Obama begin to demonstrate what it means to have good government. He spoke about the sacrifices that employees of the state department offer just by showing up.
I am proud of where we seem to be going.
I’m mindful that we’re at the start. But I’ve never seen so much heart and soul poured into national service by our political leaders.
We are moving to our promise again, we are moving forward at last. We are going to try the impossible again. We are going to lead with confidence and without fear.
We are taking patriotism back from jingoistic, ignorant buffoons and being what we stand for.
We are Americans again.