The black and white television that sat in our living room when I was a child has provided me with a handful of sharp memories some 40 years later. My favourite cartoon was Mighty Mouse, which at that age amused me with the notion that a little mouse could beat the crap out of big bad cats. And there was Tiny Talent Time, precursor to the now wildly popular Idol series.
But the sharpest images I recall from that TV set were those of social unrest. From my sheltered and peaceful vantage I was shocked by the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, riots in the streets of inner city America, and massive protests against a war in Asia that I didn’t comprehend.
I wondered why black people in America were so upset, read books with titles such as “Black Like Me”, and was enthralled when Sidney Poitier came to dinner. I came home from a Christmas in Chicago when I was 10 years old with a school report I had written on my first encounters with real black people, not just the ones I had seen rioting on our TV at home. I told my classmates that they were really nice people just like us.
It was drama south of the border that really captured my attention back then. It still does, and for the past year I’ve been riveted by the race to retire George Bush, particularly the running debate between Democratic Senators Clinton and Obama. You can be sure that Africa, and the Middle East, and Asia and Europe are also paying very close attention. But while the current unrest and social catharsis in the US is palpable, it’s not as hot as the blood that flowed in 1968, the year Reverend King and JFK’s brother Bobby were murdered, and the Democratic Party Convention degenerated into scenes like this:
(TIME, September 6, 1968) – “The assault from the left was furious, flunky and bizarre. Yet the Chicago police department responded in a way that could only be characterized as sanctioned mayhem. With billy clubs, tear gas and Mace, the blue-shirted, blue-helmeted cops violated the civil rights of countless innocent citizens and contravened every accepted code of professional police discipline. No one could accuse the Chicago cops of discrimination. They savagely attacked hippies, yippies, New Leftists, revolutionaries, dissident Democrats, newsmen, photographers, passers-by, clergymen and at least one cripple…”
Edward Kennedy was on the ballot at that 1968 convention after losing another brother to the assassin’s bullet just weeks earlier. Fast-forward to 2008 and you see him and other family members lobbying hard on behalf of Senator Obama. Hopefully none of the notorious Kennedy curse will rub off on him. I was stopped in my tracks recently when a newly arrived American expat offered the opinion that, “Obama has a great chance at the presidency, if he doesn’t get shot first.”
Shaking that depressing thought, I’ve marvelled at Senator Obama’s achievements in mobilizing youth and new voters. No other candidate has the genealogy to so credibly talk about “change”. He has revolutionized fundraising by leveraging a grassroots campaign that’s left swarms of corporate lobbyists fearing for their jobs. Much as I think America might benefit from a woman running the White House, it’s going to be hard for Hillary to convince voters that another Clinton would represent change. After all, every US President since 1988 has been named Bush or Clinton.
The theme song to my favourite cartoon began like this, “Here he comes to save the day, Mighty Mouse is on his way…”. Obama is my new Mighty Mouse, the little guy with unlikely roots who takes on the bad cats, and I’ll guarantee you that if he makes it to the Oval Office, some of those cats on Wall Street aren’t going to like it very much. There may be fewer bullets for Baghdad, leaner profits for drug and insurance companies, and bitter confrontations with the oil establishment.
But that segment of American business with long vision may embrace a President Obama. With a decaying society that has lost the moral high ground, most believe that the US is very much in need of change. Some part of the solution will lie in having Wall Street relax its obsession with quarterly profits and encouraging it to create sustainable returns for all of society. Our neighbours south of the border have much potential yet to fulfill, and I have a dream that one day the whole world may look to them for leadership.