Some people found it an uninspiring evening. Not me.
Watching Ted Kennedy’s last hurrah, essentially the last hurrah of his generation of Kennedys, brought tears to my eyes, thinking of my father and me watching the 1956 Democratic convention where JFK, a young Senator like Obama then, made his first national impact in his first convention speech (much like Obama) and my old man predicted he’d be our first “Irish Catholic” president.
Then living through that election and the ethnic and religious turmoil and prejudice and fear and insults (one joke at the time was that if JFK became president, he’d put the pope on a U. S. postage stamp so that all Americans would have to lick the pope’s bottom).
I remember having to be held back from punching a sergeant in the Air Force who was making scathingly insulting remarks about JFK while he was president before he was assassinated.
My father carried a newspaper ad folded up in his wallet from his younger adulthood that said: “Irish Catholics need not apply.” The pride that filled us on JFK’s not just winning the election, but giving such a profound and moving inauguration speech (as well as my own excitement over JFK being the first president to have a poet read at his inauguration and the first to invite jazz musicians to play at the White House), as well as the historic significance for us regular Irish Catholic folks down at the street level feeling we had a champion of our own, cannot be explained if you weren’t there experiencing it.
All that and more poured into my heart and soul as Teddy waved farewell, no matter what his words were saying.
Having been the youngest and wildest child in my large family, who made some huge mistakes in my youth and not so youth, I could also identify with Teddy’s life story in some ways. But the ways in which I don’t identify, seem even more significant. Like here’s a young playboy who could have spent his life like many other rich kids, indulging in the pastimes of the wealthy with little thought for others, but instead he became the workhorse of the Senate and in the estimation of several historians, as well as me, the best, most effective Senator in our history.
(There’s a reason the rightwing made him the poster boy for raising funds for so many years, because Teddy was so effective at getting laws passed that used the government to help the poor and the working class and the uninsured and children and women and minorities and all the causes the Democrats have always stood for, sometimes better than others, and rightwing Republicans have been against, for reasons I’m sure will be pointed out by some of them on comments on this post, but the reality cannot be denied.)
So my father and generations of Irish Catholic working people—as well as so many other Americans who had no real representation because they were too poor or weak or too much of a minority, etc.—were in my heart and thoughts as I watched this white-haired, pink-faced Mick wave goodby to a world he made better through hard work, deep commitment, and intelligence (he wasn’t called “the lion of the Senate” for nothing).
Then to see Michelle Obama’s speech not that much later, really got to me. So many of my friends from back when many parts of this country were legally segregated and much of the rest of the country was de facto, as they said, segregated, when racism was a given, accepted as something that would never change, are gone.
We struggled to change that status quo and did, with nothing but resistance from the rightwing of the Democratic Party of those times as well as the up and coming right wing of the Republican Party, but more importantly the indifference by so many fellow citizens to the injustices of those times, so much more blatant than anything we see now.
To witness an African-American woman speaking so passionately (no matter what problems she might have been having with the difficulties and fears and self-consciousness of addressing a vast space filled with thousands of people, let alone the millions watching on TV) about where she came from, as well as her husband, to arrive at this point, and to remember all those I’ve known who fought so hard to get this country to this same point and who weren’t here to witness this achievement, was almost unbelievable.
What can I say, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, joy and sadness all at once, for so much that had to happen before this could be possible. No matter who wins the election, the historic achievement of Obama’s campaign cannot be denied nor reversed. It has been done, and Michelle’s speech, her grace and beauty and confident presence as not just a fellow citizen, but as an African-American woman representing all that, was both moving and enlightening. Can you imagine the weight of that responsibility? How well she dealt with all that.
It was such an historic moment, and so many ghosts seemed to be in my living room watching it with me, I could hardly keep from weeping with relief and joy and wonder at the reality of it as well as the deep sense of so many missing from this milestone, including so many personal friends and lovers and fellow fighters in the battles that had to be fought to get us all here, like it or not.
The next three days will be gravy, as they say. And for all the pundits who kept commenting on how there were little or no attacks on McCain and Bush (and of course as they were saying this they were talking over what well could have been attacks on McCain and Bush by the lesser-known speakers who the networks were ignoring—I can’t believe that in this day and age with thousands of media outlets, there wasn’t one I could find that just showed the convention from beginning to end unedited or commented on) I hope the next three days will take care of that.
And I might add, the short film on Jimmy Carter’s work in New Orleans with the Katrina survivors and his comments on that shown earlier in the evening was a moving piece of work as well, and a tribute to an ex-president who like Teddy Kennedy could have spent his later years on a permanent vacation or retirement (or exploiting his presidency for large fees from corporations etc. like Reagan) but instead has chosen to act on his faith and do good works for the least of our fellow humans.
All in all an impressive night for this old fan of politics.