Playing Ketchup

I guess it takes a particularly dull blogger, even one who only features politics tangentially, to not comment at all on the remarkable transfer of power that took place this week.  Since I was traveling for business, I hadn’t the luxury of declaring Tuesday a holiday (and you can forget about the more established holiday on Monday), and I was reduced to reading fleeting accounts by newsmen and attendees.  I have yet to watch the address.

I tuned in to NPR at noon Central on Tuesday as I was driving out to buy a sandwich, just after the Address concluded, and was surprised to feel so stirred at hearing the Marine Band play Stars and Stripes and an interpretation of National Emblem that I want to hear again, if I can find it on Youtube or somewhere else. (In the section where low brass and high brass do something of a “call-and-response” unison fanfare, the 4 lead-in beats, usually just perfunctory quarter-notes, were struck emphatically and jubilantly, and made the soaring fanfare that ensued that much more delicious. But maybe that’s just the way I heard it that day.).  Surprised because for so long, I’ve cynically viewed patriotic display as mere leitmotif and campaign backdrop for the crowd that just slunk out of the Capitol, and here I was feeling once again the exuberance that I’d once felt playing these marches.

Well, my lack of commentary belies my depth of feeling.  I was doubtful during the election season, not about Obama, but about whether he could prevail against the Palin-o-rama.  I presumed that he would suffer a tsunami of Bradley-effect, especially based on anecdotal evidence that Hillary supporters would abandon him, and that coupled with the revival of the yammering Republican “base” would combine to put McCain in office. I was never happier to be wrong. I was spellbound watching his acceptance speech in Grant Park.

When I’m flying, and there’s no internet and no phone contact (yet!), I descend into the guilty pleasure of catching up on my reading.  This trip, it’s been concentrated on back issues of New York Review of Books, which had a number of ruminations on the election.  One featured Joan Didion and Darryl Pinckney, who seems to be engaging in a wary optimism:

For the first time in the memory of most of us a major political party was moving in the direction of nominating a demonstrably superior candidate = a genuinely literate man in a culture that does not prize literacy, an actually cosmopolitan man in an arena that deems tolerance of the world suspect by definition.  A civil man.  A politically adroit man.

She goes on to express her worry early in his campaign that his support was too messianic and Kool-Aid driven”

It became increasingly clear that we were dealing with militant idealism - by which I mean the convenient but dangerous redefinition of political or pragmatic questions as moral questions - “convenient” because such redefinition makes those questions seem easier to answer, “dangerous” because this was a time when the nation was least prepared to afford easy answers.

I think she has a real point, one that was reinforced last week when I attended a talk by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  During his talk, he had driven his argument against the current agricultural model of large farms producing a monoculture of products (corn, soy beans, wheat) that are converted into “edible non-food products”.  In the ensuing question-and-answer period, there was a fatuous query wondering if the advent of the Obama administration might be an opportunity to derail this juggernaut.  Pollen noted wryly that everyone seems to be projecting their parochial (my word) hopes on Obama, and that he’s inclined to wait and see.  Yes, for whatever reason, everyone with an agenda that has been out of favor for the last 8 years seems to feel that he is their champion. The cumulative disappointment that will ensue when many of these hopes are inevitably delayed or dashed might be the first substantive test of this administration.

The resiliently positive aspects of the Obama presidency where presented in this issue by Darryl Pinckney:

I am full of inappropriate friendliness to white people and even suspect myself of being patronizing toward them.

Pinckney thinks that Obama reconnects us with our government after a long estrangement:

…the U.S. had become like those countries we tend to pity where the state and the society have less and less to do with each other.  The election of Obama halts that deterioration…We have accustomed ourselves to such a diminished public life that we are scared that we are asking too much of Obama, making too much of him.  We need to be reassured and so President Obama must keep talking.  It is thrilling  to think that his calm voice and graceful manner were not just for the campaign, that as president he will go on talking to us like this.  Overnight, public discourse has been elevated.

My feelings exactly.  I should have just linked the articles to begin with.


  1. I’m glad you posted the text and not the links because I could just read and reread that last quote and stay right here on your site to do so. Pinckney says it so well, it’s something I have been thinking but had yet to articulate with as much insight. What a time it is in our country.

  2. It’s so early, and already I’m feeling some despair. I shared your sensations of wonder at this new presidency and even the music was magical. But now I wonder whether the problems are simply too enormous and the train rolling too fast toward the inevitable crash for Obama or anyone else to be able to protect us. Damn, I hate it when I feel like the best possible thing has just occurred, but a few minutes too late.

  3. I’m with Pollan — hope but verify. Something like that. Thanks for the link; I never think to look for the ROB online unless someone mentions it. And someone did.

  4. the onrushing economic depression and the probable passing of peak oil production will certainly do more to end the industrial ag biz than pollan’s lectures. not that he should stop. obama may be the right person to help us through some very painful changes to our existence. he is impressive.