Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Overground Railroad

I guess you have to be over a certain age for the full symbolism of the Obama's train ride into the Capitol to hit you right in the heart, so I hope younger readers will indulge me if I get a little misty. Although Obama's trip from Philadelphia to Washington was fashioned after a similar inaugural Lincoln journey in 1861, only those over 148 years old will remember that a decoy train was used so Lincoln could be snuck into the Capitol under cover of darkness by the Pinkerton Company. Obama took the same journey in the light of day and arrived in exaltation. I only hope some aide is whispering "glory is fleeting" into his ear for humility's sake, although he seems to have plenty.

There is only one other similar train ride in my memory where ordinary people stood ten deep to catch a glimpse of their hero, and that was the funeral train of Robert F. Kennedy from New York to Washington, D.C. in August of 1968. It was the most poignant and tragic public event I had ever witnessed, and since I was young, and felt in the thick of current events, I was crushed by the promise destroyed and the hope denied. I'll admit that several years passed before I was able to watch news footage of that sad, solemn train and all those broken-hearted people standing by the tracks without weeping. But Barack Obama seems indeed inspired in his use of symbolism. Just as Grant Park in Chicago, a place infamously barred to protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention, was used for Obama's election night victory celebration, so this jubilant train trip, lined with exuberant well-wishers, only with tears of joy in their eyes this time, stands in juxtaposition to that painful memory of so many years past. It's almost as if something that was taken from me a long time ago has, in part, been given back.

I suppose I understand a bit better how Evangelicals must have felt when George W. Bush was elected, only without the accompanying dementia. I have no illusions that Barack Obama is the "messiah," I just believe he is the right man for this extremely difficult job, and I feel grateful for his election and confident in his abilities. Aside from electing a black man, I still find it astounding that the country elected an intellectual. It wasn't so long ago that "intellectual" was a dirty word, as in "pointy-headed," and other scornful descriptions used by the Tom DeLays and Karl Roves of this world. Clinton had an enormous intellect, but he was too much of a razorback, redneck-yahoo to be an intellectual. Kennedy was a brilliant rogue. The last Democratic intellectual to run for President was Adlai Stevenson, and the scorn from his political opponents over his braininess was sufficient for every candidate since to dumb down the message. Not this time. And people seem to be responding well to being talked to like adults.

Despite these desperate times, the excitement over the Obama inauguration is palpable and Rooseveltian in its scope. Yesterday's speech in Philadelphia contained these majestic words:
"And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not. What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed. What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."

Language like this, with an historical echo of Lincoln, if taken seriously, could well save not just this nation, but save us as a civil society.

I don't usually like to kick a man when he's down, but in the case of George Bush, I'll make an exception. There's a final irony to this entire scenario and it's that the Bush presidency really began with a catastrophe in lower Manhattan, and it ends with one as well, only with an entirely different result. Bush's tough-guy image was built standing on the rubble of the Twin Towers, but his "farewell" speech to the nation, with its' supporting cast of human props, resembled the final episode of "Seinfeld." There was the old fireman that Bush draped his arm around on top of the pile, there was the Katrina survivor who's arm someone must have been twisted to be there. The only old face missing was Lyndie England giving a "thumbs-up.". Only hours before, some sort of miracle had occurred in the Hudson River and a true American hero emerged in pilot "Sully" Sullenberger, but Bush was too self-absorbed and oblivious to even acknowledge the event and, of course, it's far too late for him to exploit it now. Obama already called. It reminds me of the Iranian militants waiting for Jimmy Carter to leave office before releasing the hostages. Whatever the significance, I'd think it serendipitous to begin a new administration after a miracle than after a disaster any day. Perhaps an era of new heroes has begun.

16 comments:

Gregg said...

True gift ....expressing feelings for which I have the utmost respect with fitting words. Really, Randy. True gift.

I'm hoping for more tears. Lots of em. The kind that cleanse, that are all about relief. I believe that we have been presented with a great man. Maybe even more than a "man of a century". There are over 6 billion souls here. This guy has the prescient power to ignite the slow fuse of peace. I believe John Lennon would be optimistic, too.

We shall see.

Congratulations on being alive when what is possible might be tried.

Anonymous said...

G-d Bless America. Let that Bird-Brain George Dush fly away forever on The Plane of Shame this Tuesday the 20th, excuse me he'll be on a helicopter with a helicopter "driver/operator" at the controls. Just get him the hell out of here.

I've always loved basketball and admired the "Big O", however, look-out here comes the "New O", he won't be riding the pine, he'll be THE MVP, just wait and see.

John Tyler said...

I hope he wears a hat!

Jane said...

Thank you Randy!!!!!!! I'm crying and it's not even Tuesday, yet......Love you.

Bob said...

I agree about the impact that RFK's funeral train was staggering emotionally.
In 1963, I was in Coach Russell Reid's US History class when Brother Stephen put CBS radio on to inform us that first, JFK had been shot, and then that he had died.
There are still redneck American's who hate JFK and RFK and think that Martin Luther King was a commie. I really do not think too many US fundamentalists (i.e. Nazi's for Christ) are shocked over that GW Bush inflicted on America. They are still perfectly ok with his torture, his intelligence gathering methods, and that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What they are motivated by is FEAR. FDR got is right when he said that was the only thing we truly needed to be afraid of.
I wish and pray for Obama to succeed at all he tries to do. We need a refreshing turn around from the bumbling, terrible rein of "dubya." I wish that prosecution of the thugs and criminals in his admin could be started yesterday.
Bob

Anonymous said...

When evangelicals rejoice you call it dementia? And your extremely romantic notions of Obama and all the gushing of praise before he has even taken office! That's an example of the uber imbalance that you tend to exhibit in your commentaries. But then you always preach only for your choir. This is no way to advance the cause of impartial and objective journalism. You may be the Bill O'Reilly or (what's worse) the Sean Hannity of the Democratic Party.

Ken said...

What began for Obama two years ago as a long-shot presidential bid launched in Abraham Lincoln's shadow in Springfield, Ill., ended with another tribute to the 16th president, Obama's political idol. His 10-car train retraced the route Lincoln took to the capital before he assumed the presidency in 1861.

Lincoln did speak along the way; dummy train only after Pinkerton's guys joined up In Baltimore because of the secessionists all around... k

Anonymous said...

The train deal imitating Lincoln was rather presumptuous. He may be counting his chickens before they hatch. Evidently, he has a high opinion of himself...the Black Lincoln. We'll see. One thing is for certain, he has the American media in his hip pocket. I hope he is not as bogus as the mainline media. If he is, we are in big trouble.

Anonymous said...

This blog should be named 'The First Church of Obama', because the commentator speaks in almost religious awe of the man. Do you issue membership cards to the faithful? Can we send our tithe to him through you?

davethedog said...

I give a hearty "right on" to this sentiment. However, I will not break my arm patting myself on the back and neither should Obama.

We need to get some changes made soon. Bush blamed every wrong thing in his administration on Clinton. I don't know how long we will have that luxury to blame things on Bush.

I will just give President Obama that same words of wisdom that Willy the manager of the Star Club in Hamburg gave to the Beatles. "Macht Schau!" Make a Show. Do something!

Hail to the Chief! Hail, Hail Rock and Roll!

Gregg said...

For those who have legitimate trouble in projecting what the future might hold from the data already available, let me say that we shall soon see what kind of man we've had the good fortune to have put in charge. The hope, obviously, is that the man will provide the leadership that is so unmistakably intelligent, transparently honest, humane and decent that most everyone will have trouble escaping seeing and feeling it.

That will then lead to one of the great landslides in our history in 2012. Watch for it. We'll show that world we're not stupid....any more.

Sputnik57 said...

For Mr. Anon at 4:14, I don't think there is a Democratic equivalent of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, unless Josef Goebbels was a Democrat and I don't know about it. But the title of this effort is Born-Again Hippies, which means I have an opinion I wish to express. Disagree if you like, but don't expect me to present your side on my blog. Frankly, I have trouble taking seriously the opinion of anyone who would choose to vote for both Bush and Sarah Palin too. Why not take a breath and enjoy living history for a moment? Then remember when you read these posts, I am not impartial. I do appreciate the dissent, however.
Randy Haspel

Anonymous said...

... been trying to figure out why I get so choked up, and misty every time I hear O speak. I'm a grown man, a Viet Vet, an incurable cynic and skeptic. Sometimes, I harbor racist leanings, and ill-will toward my fellow man. How is it that this Obama man affects me in such a basic emotional manner? I've distilled it down to one simple thought. I believe HE CARES ABOUT ME!. That's it. I think he cares. Will I be proved a fool, and naive for thinking this? Maybe, but right now, put me down as a true believer.

zephyrman

Father Farken said...

Anonymous/Zephyrman! That was one of the most honest, moving, and touching posts that I have ever read.

Back in the 60s I played football @ Auburn & got my knees torn up pretty good. One day while the team was practicing & with my leg in a cast, I limped to Toomers Corner to hear little Hank Jr. sing his daddy's old songs sung from the back of a truck. After the Lost Highway... Gov. George Wallace appears asking for every ones vote & then he points me out in the crowd! How he knew me..a second string wounded defensive tackle I'm not quite sure but he worked his way down to chat. It was Bocephus' dad's songs that drew me there & I was embarassed that the Gov. blocked blacks from the The University of Alabama. It felt awkward! However after talking to the Gov. I found him to be one of the most charming men that I have ever met. What I discovered about Gov. Wallace is that he was a lot like Bill Clinton...a poll driven politition giving the people what they want before you can win them over to what they need. ("Say it loud I'm black & I'm proud!") James Brown loved the guy! After getting his ass shot off while his persona was running for president he changed his views & became a social progressive...America is shocked but he was just getting back in touch with what he already truly believed! Zephyrman! You were created in the image of God! You are just becoming the authentic Zephyrman in all his humble humanity! Probably more than anything I know that the hardest of hearts can be softened! The Peace of the Lord
Father Ferghus Farken

Gimme a break said...

I'm sick of all the flowerly accolades and praise for things not yet done.

Why don't all of you just shut up and wait and see what the man does.

Don't confuse efforts with results.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gimme a Break..... If you don't like what you hear, change the f...... channel! You might wish to consider Fox Noise, since they're probably more in touch with your intelligent viewpoint.

zephyrman