A reader writes:
You're right: the Grateful Dead just trumped your Atlantic cover essay - at least in part. You said in that essay that in electing Obama we will finally, thankfully, be leaving the stale culture wars of the Boomer generation behind. I get your point, but as one of those reviled Boomers, all I can tell you is: Wrong.
Barack and Michelle Obama are the inspiration we horrible liberals had when we were young, the inspiration that was cut down in its prime and replaced with creeping mediocrity and worse (ever notice the cast of "Nixon" bears a remarkable resemblance to the cast of "Bush II"?)
I remember exactly where I was when I heard JFK had been assassinated: seventh grade, junior high school. I remember the desk, the room, the principal's voice on the PA system. I remember nothing else about that year, but I remember that moment photographically, as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. Only now, looking back from so many years, and older now than my folks were then, do I realize what I subconsciously felt at that moment: it was as if my own father, a WWII vet and JFK's age, and that entire generation, had somehow been assaulted, cut down in their prime. I still feel that way today. Something did happen to them, and to us, and to our country that day. It has nothing to do with party--Dad was a life-long Republican. It has to do with something deeper.
By the time Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was a senior in high school, and becoming socially and politically aware. King's assassination seemed of a piece with Kennedy's to me, the next ugly chapter in the reactionary response to the vast sweeping change they represented. I went to hear Robert Kennedy speak at our local University on April 29, three weeks after King was shot. Bobby was on a campaign swing through Indiana for the primary, but I neither knew nor cared about primaries. Something in my inchoate teenage mind simply wanted to hear that the dream was not dead. I was in the same shoes then that so many young people are today with Obama: insulted by years of moral and political abuse, lies and war and bigotry and shame for my country--and I wanted something better.
A month later, Bobby was dead too.
My nascent political worldview was formed by those experiences: there was a progressive force in our country, and a reactionary one. The forces of reaction would stop at nothing, including murder, to stop progressive change. Of course I realized there was no connection between the three assassinations--except there was. There was something in the air, or rather under the surface, some dark unconscious collective force--the American shadow. Read the history of that time as prose, and this take on causality seems ridiculous, if not paranoid: given the three completely unconnected assassins--two of whom apparently acted alone--you have nothing more here than random coincidence. Read it as poetry, though, with the heart, and you understand there is no coincidence. Both views, of course, are true.
What happened then--the decapitation of the progressive liberal force in this country, just as it's next generation was reaching adulthood--has everything to do with Obama today. He's the dream deferred, the inheritor of myth. So the Grateful Dead will play for him on Monday, and I will vote for him on Tuesday, not to bypass something we Boomers started--because believe me, we did not start the great divide--but to finish the battle we began then and fulfill what was always, always our dream--the same dream that we are dreaming today, and that Barack and Michelle describe so eloquently every time they speak: justice, unity, freedom--not as abstract principles, but as real, on-the-ground, shared American realities. It's been a long time coming.
In fact, I will say it's Barack and Michelle who are the real conservatives--the ones who are conserving the core American dream, the core American values. 90% of the crap that passes as "conservatism" today is nothing more than that same reactionary nightmare we suffered through in the 60's, whose roots go back into the Civil War and beyond, and whose latest generations of practitioners have done all they could these past many years to quash the liberal impulse. The genius of Obama--and it is a spiritual genius--is he quiets that old nightmare. He lifts us beyond. He wakes us up, brings us together--the true opposite to Bush and Rove, who drove us deeper into drugged sleep and division, day by day. That was your point in "Goodbye to All That", and it was well said. But don't blame the Boomers--left or right--for a war that's been going on forever. And don't underestimate the sleeping giant we Boomers--especially we liberal Boomers--represent. We have not forgotten our dreams.
(Photo: a still from the Zapruder video of the JFK assassination.)
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