Obama, the legacy of Vietnam, the future

The new Atlantic Monthly has a marvelous piece by Andrew Sullivan titled “Goodbye to All That.” But the cover plug identifies it as “Why Obama Matters.” Both are a good description.

One of the things that disturbs me the most about the current political and social scenes is the absolute polarization of the discourse. Once upon a time, it seems to me, it was possible to have “civil discourse,” with the emphasis on civil in both meanings of the word. Now it seems it takes only an expressed opinion to cause the opposite view to rear an ugly head screaming and shouting.

The last “inexperienced” President we had was JFK. He changed the way Americans felt about themselves and about the world. We can never know what his legacy would truly have been, because his presidency was abruptly terminated by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, only three years into his term. The legacy he left us with in his abrupt departure was the quagmire of Vietnam. Sullivan identifies this as the tainting factor of all politics since.

Sullivan’s main point is that all of the movers and shakers of the political establishment are colored by the divisive attitudes that emerged in the late 1960s as a result of the Vietnam conflict. He suggests that perhaps it’s time for another generation to take over and change the discourse. The obvious candidate is Barack Obama.

Is Obama up to the task? I don’t know. I do know that for me, even as a member of the Vietnam generation, the alternatives are all unattractive.

40% of Americans have never known a President who was not a Bush or a Clinton. This is scary.

I spoke at length tonight with one of my sisters with whom I haven’t spoken in a couple of years. There’s no animus here. We just have very different lives and very different priorities, so we have little reason to speak except at weddings and funerals. And she missed the last family wedding, so I haven’t seen her since our father’s funeral.

But she related an epiphany she had recently. Her husband goes to work about 2:30 a.m. On a recent evening, he left for work and she was wakeful (translated: insomniac), so she got up and turned on the TV. On screen was Al Pacino sitting across a table from a “younger man.” And Al says, “If you just keep looking backward, you give up your entire life.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me that 20 years or more ago?” she asked me.

Maybe it is time for those of us whose values were forged by the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s to step aside and pass the torch to people untainted by them. It may be time for a changing of the guard.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that what we’re doing with grooming politicians for decades to keep up the status quo isn’t working. It shouldn’t be a question of “It’s my turn now.” It should be a question of leadership, and forward movement, and an acknowledgement that our world is changing.

We can’t keep looking at the past, or we risk losing the present.

4 Responses to “Obama, the legacy of Vietnam, the future”

  1. Jeff Moriarty Says:

    Completely agree with you! Our culture has become so divisive – you’re with us or you’re a terrorist, you’re a Tree Hugger or a NeoCon. It’s possible for sensible people to disagree, find a compromise, and work together with respect and in support of a common goal and future.

    Until we see that take shape in our government the scary roller coaster will continue. I am NOT looking forward to the next year of political mud slinging. Ugh.

  2. Marianne Says:

    Good to hear from you, Jeff.

    I get so disgusted with this stuff. But it feels like it’s too far gone to fix until the whole thing implodes, which I suspect it will in the not-too-distant future.

    One of the best things about my life now is having real neighbors. Even the ones with differences of opinions find a way to get along. There are times out here when we need each other.

  3. Barbara Says:

    Maybe it’s best if the president is young enough not to have too many cronies. I’m so tired of Bush’s cronyism, I’m ready for someone who’ll think fresh thoughts and empower a new crowd. I’m still leaning toward Kucinich at this point, though.

    I wouldn’t mind someone from the 60s who didn’t turn around and become a corporate errand boy or girl or a religious nut.

    “40% of Americans have never known a President who was not a Bush or a Clinton. This is scary.”

    That is scary. I hate politics too, but it’s like the garbage. You can’t let it pile up and not do anything about it. (Hmm, maybe what we need is a political compost heap.)

  4. Marianne Says:

    Hi, Barbara.

    I’m not sure you could get to be President without accumulating a substantial coterie of cronies, sort of the way that rock stars accumulate groupies and roadies. The real question is probably what you have to do to keep them.

    Don’t forget that what goes into your compost pile ultimately ends up in your garden. A toxic dump might be more appropriate disposition for politicians.

    Kucinich is a very interesting person. I don’t think I’m very interested in having him be one of the leaders of the free world, however. He’s the other side of the 60s baggage.

    We lose sight of the fact that no President can get much accomplished without the career politicians who inhabit our Senate and Congress. And even these people are hamstrung by the monumental bureaucracy we’ve managed to build, people who know they just have to wait it out and the lawmakers will eventually change. They, however, will still be there, working toward substantial pensions and healthcare benefits for life.

    It’s enough to turn a person into a true radical. Alas, I’m probably too old and too comfortable to fit into that role anymore.

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