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Loose Change

I sat home in Tennessee, starin’ at my screen
uneasy feelin’ in my chest, wonderin’ what it means
-Steve Earle “Christmas in Washington”

So Obama made his speech last night, and this message of “change” was prominent. Sheryl Crow even switched a few words around in one of her songs to fit the occasion and Stevie Wonder showed a lot of teeth. There were a lot of good teeth all around, for that matter. For a guy who smoked for a long while, Barack’s are coming along nicely. And that Joe Biden has one hell of a set of chompers. In fact, Biden’s are alarmingly white. I think it’s time to acknowledge that this teeth whitening technology has advanced beyond the point where it’s doing anyone any good. It’s like everything’s being shot under a black light these days, and everyone’s mother has bred with Sam Champion. Perhaps it’s our ongoing determination, particularly during the political season, to reinforce our independence from England. But I’d take Winston Churchill over any of these clowns.

This was supposed to be Obama’s moment to lay out his ideas and vision. He touched on this a bit, and also made some new references, including one to McCain’s reputation as a hot head. But the majority of his talk, despite expectations, continued to focus on this non-specific idea of change. What specifics he did address weren’t a heck of a lot different from traditionally democratic ideas of the past. In an effort to appeal to all people and avoid alienating any, he’s steadfastly refused to hammer on the most obvious change point that he represents: he’s black and he doesn’t have a name like Jefferson, Washington or Lincoln. Sure, he’s brushed up against the idea in the past and mentioned, passingly, that his name and appearance are different. The one speech he made addressing the point, when it could no longer be avoided, was by far his most eloquent and gripping of the campaign. But now any reference to this colossal and authentic version of “change” that he embodies is only touched on ever so delicately and implied in subtext. And yet there it is in every camera shot,in the faces of his wife and kids, and in the eyes of every black person in crowd.

I don’t think he’d be practicing any great injustice, playing the “race card” or implying racial prejudice on the part of anyone not voting for him were he to put it out there a bit more. The idea that he’ll seem aligned with radical ideology or appear fixed with anger on righting the many wrongs set in place by this country’s great historical shame is ridiculous. That he’s an appealing and potentially capable candidate speaks for itself in his very manner. But if we’re talking about change here, let’s get real people, and start with the most obvious and glaring example he represents. The problem with politicians is that they try to maintain a straight face while trying to be all things to all people. And in doing this they typically come off as being full of shit. It’s no secret that there are a lot of brown people, in all corners of the world, who aren’t exactly singing America’s praises. And folks of all political persuasion seem capable of acknowledging that we squandered at least a bit of the international good will that was in the air immediately following September of 2001. Historically, symbolic gestures are every bit as important as the actual practices put in place. Nixon made great strides with China, but all anyone remembers is his sweating a lot and leaving in disgrace.

I found myself paying attention to the start of Obama’s acceptance speech last night, tuning out during the middle part where he touched on solar energy and Mccain being a Bush clone, and then tuning back in at the very end. It was in closing that he mentioned Martin Luther King’s march on Washington forty-five years ago, and in measured tones his voice rose with passion. He should lose the restraint and start going with it a bit more. He’s already got the posters all printed up; might as well meet this change thing head-on.

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