Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Prufrock and Me

by Libby Hellmann

““I grow old.. I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled..” The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I wasn’t going to blog on politics. I really wasn’t. We’re not a political blog. But then Marcus did and it sparked a lively conversation. And I decided I could rationalize it by saying it’s in my DNA. I grew up in Washington, DC, where, when you’re talking about the neighbors at the dinner table, you’re talking politics.

But this isn’t really about politics. It’s more my personal political journey. My first “political” act was triggered by my mother when she dragged me downtown to see the funeral cortege of President Kennedy in 1963. She said it was something I would probably never see again. I remember the flag-draped coffin, the horse with its saddle and stirrups on backwards, the tears and somber expressions. But I had a more personal connection to that event also. I went to the same high school as Luci Baines Johnson and was sitting across from her in study hall when the principal came in that Friday afternoon, beckoned Luci out of the room, and rocked her (and our) world forever.

In 1968 I was supposed to take a semester off college to work for Bobby Kennedy’s campgaign. It didn’t happen. The assassinations kept piling up. Camelot was dead. Vietnam raged. I marched. I protested. I started working for an underground newspaper. Then I dropped out and hitchhiked across country. I thought I was headed to a hippie commune in Colorado where everyone lived off the land. What I found was a crash pad where people subsisted on peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. I kept going and was in the middle of the Nevada desert, six hours from Las Vegas, with a back pack, sleeping bag, and no water, when something kicked in. What was a nice Jewish girl doing in a place like that?

I got myself back East. I re-joined the system. Went to grad school. Started working in TV news. Helped produce the Watergate hearings and watched them twice a day. Then the impeachment hearings. Moved to Chicago. Worked at a PR firm. Eventually started writing.

Why the personal disclosures? Because I’m now on the older end of the Baby Boom, and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek says there’s a difference. Which can affect whether you support Obama or Clinton. If you’re a younger Boomer, born after 1955, you tend to be more hopeful, reject the politics of the past, and support Obama. If you’re an early Boomer, you don’t. (Btw, the Outfit is split down the middle and I suspect our politics are too)...

I’m on the older end. For me, the disappointments of the Sixties, the Seventies, and the past 7 years are still raw. Messages of hope, of redemption for the future, just fall flat ... even with such a likeable, eloquent candidate as Obama. I find all his promises just that-- abstract, feel-good ideas. (Remember “if it feels good, do it?”) I keep thinking the guy is a politician first. Trying to win an election. I doubt that we’ll see any fundamental change in a system where civil servants spend their entire careers working in government and presidents spend a maximum of eight years. And I admit it – I subscribe to the “other shoe” theory of politics. I fear that something bad is going to happen if we get our hopes up too high.

There’s a thoughtful piece worth reading in the New Republic’s “Washington Diarist.” In “Forever Young,”, Leon Wieseltier says your politics comes from how you view the world:

“The question of whether Barack Obama will make a fine commander-in chief finally depends on your view of the direction of history in the coming years.” The author says, “I cannot escape the foreboding that we are heading into an era of conflict, not an era of conciliation.”

I agree. I just can’t ignore that there are people—even entire nations -- that want to destroy us and that they’re devious enough to pick on an untested leader with limited foreign policy experience.

Am I a skeptic? Yes. A cynic? Probably. Clearly on one end of the Boomer spectrum. But I don't want to ruin it for you. Those of you who are full of hope for the future, enjoy. Get involved. Make it happen. Some things will change just by having a Democrat in office (assuming we beat McCain). Just don’t expect me to join in.

So... which type of Baby Boomer are you? Does it even make a difference, or am I just whistling ts elliot?

21 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can't name one Baby Boomer who is optimistic about the future despite most of us favoring the man that says there is hope. Truthfully, I'm as afraid of "us" as of "them" globally. Maybe more.

Anonymous said...

from bob axelrod

tsk, tsk. When the cynics leave all the work for the alleged wide-eyed optimists, boy are we in trouble!

Your comment: "Some things will change just by having a Democrat in office (assuming we beat McCain). Just don’t expect me to join in" is quite amusing. If you are not joining in, then who are the "we" of which YOU speak?

As your good friend, I respectfully disagree with much of this particular blog entry.

Granted the sixties did not fully live up to its billing. But what could live up to those expectations? Utopia is unattainable, at least in the flesh.

But - and I don't think this has much to do with my "back-of-the-boom" innocence or optimism because I have heard older people (like yourself) say similar things, and I myself am extremely cynical, especially about politics – the sixties were a resounding success in my opinion. Civil rights. Personal freedoms and expression. Music and art that helped change the world. Much more transparency in politics. Blues jeans! Casual dress. The beginnings of the environmental movement. And many more things I don't have time to write or think of right now.

My coming of age decade was the seventies. Granted, it couldn't live up to the sixties, but it was then that the woman's movement really gained steam, which paved the way for one of "our" Democratic candidates. And it was the golden age of Hollywood, despite what some may say. And thank god for punk rock and slam dancing (now called moshing). Without that, all the pent-up anger us youngin's had about the "failures" of our older brothers and sisters might have been taken out on the streets! And how about the much-maligned disco? It was an extremely important means of expression for oppressed groups such as gays and minorities (not to mention a good excuse for meeting members of the opposite sex).

Now getting back to politics. As has been the case pretty much since I was able to vote, I do not think any of the candidates will provide strong leadership for our country.

And despite my youth (47 and half years and counting - we stop counting half years around age 12, but I seem to have started again at age 45), I do not support Obama, for many of the reasons you cited - I think he lacks substance, I don't buy that much if anything is going to change. I wholeheartedly agree with Leon Wieseltier that we are heading into an era of conflict, not an era of conciliation. Resources are getting scarce, the interests of the largest, most powerful nations are at odds (China needs oil and I believe will have no problem supporting terrorist regimes to get it). Global warming will create economic and health crises on a scale us old foggies have never seen. The wars fought over our very survival may make WWs I and II look like ... well the first Gulf War. I don't see how Obama's alleged vision has anything to with what is happening on the ground.

I don't particularly like H. Clinton either. I think she's a typical political snake, smug, etc. And she's probably a bit too liberal for my likings.

And McCain? More double talk. Supports abortion for rape victims but not for anyone else? If one is "pro-life" (a term at which I have always chuckled) on moral grounds, then why doesn't the baby conceived during such a horrendous act like rape have just as much right to be born as, say, a child of a drunken one-night stand? If it's the unborns' rights he is concerned with, and not the physical, emotional, financial well-being of the woman (not to mention society and maybe even the father), then why ... well I already asked the question. At least he seems to support stem cell research. I think.

I am at a disadvantage talking about politics, as the cynic in me has made me apolitical. With the layers of bureaucracy, the financial and political pressures of the presidency, I don't think it makes a huge difference who is in there. Unless of course they are just a complete imbecile like our current leader.

So, to try and bring this rant to an end, I confess that I missed the Illinois primary. Partially because I felt obligated to vote for a Democrat and hadn't formulated an opinion yet and partially because I was physically ill and couldn't muster up the energy to get out and vote. But the big difference for ME between the two parties is stem cell research, abortion, the environment and how they propose to deal with our latest war.

A candidate's stance on stem cell research, abortion and the environment is enough to sway me to vote Democratic, because all of these impact me and my loved ones directly. And with a 16 year old son, I have to be concerned about how wars will impact us directly. But let's remember which party got us involved in and escalated our involvement in Viet Nam. I doubt any of the current choices will or can keep us out of the next conflict, which looms just around the corner.

The terrorists (and perhaps more forebodingly, China) may see a Democratic candidate as an easy mark, but I doubt that a McCain victory will do much to stop them either. After all, the terrorists saved their worst attack for a sleepy George W. So how these folks propose to deal with the current war doesn't seem to be an overriding reason to vote one way or another. If my son gets drafted, I will leave it to YOU, Libby, and all the other "we"s to deal with the current or next U.S. war, because I hear that Canada is a lovely place to live and they have free health care, I believe. No way my son dies for YOU or McCain or Obama or Clinton.

If this sounds selfish, it is. It is the sound of a man who has lost faith in our systems to effect any real change or to be able to make things balanced and fair for all Americans. Humans, as all life forms, are basically a self-interested lot. And the diversity of the U.S. - the thing that makes us great - is also the very construct that will forever keep us from heading in a unified direction.

So in the end, where do I come out on all of this? Self interest. I have a daughter. I want my daughter to believe that she can achieve whatever she puts her mind to in what is still largely a man’s world. To reach for the stars. The candidate that gives her the best role model for doing that is Hillary. So if she makes it as our Democratic candidate, she is going to get my largely symbolic vote - for my daughter's sake.

And for all those that would say the same about Obama holding out hope for all African Americans, I say this - maybe he holds out hope for all Harvard-educated half-African American, half- Caucasians in the U.S. But can the African American men and women who are toiling away in the shadow of inequality and covert discrimination depend on his alleged grand vision to better their lives any time soon? Doubt it. A vote for Obama, in my opinion, is also largely symbolic.

If it’s between Obama and McCain, I’m actually going to have to read up on both of them!!! I don't think I'm going out on a limb to believe that we'll see McCain soften his right-wing rhetoric during the actual presidential campaign because the GOP will be in the same position as the Democrats - they will have to vote for the lessor of two evils. And McCain will have to pander to the independents and swing voters.

I made a bet with a friend that a woman, an African American (even a half African American) nor a Jew (Bloomberg) would ever be president in our lifetime (the lifetime of a back-of-the-boomer). Not because of my preferences, but because of my take on the private beliefs of the majority of the VOTERS in this nation. But now, with a fading Mickey Rooney look-alike in this overly visual age as the only other option, I'm not so sure.

As far as the other shoe dropping, Libby, it always does and always will. The only constant is change. For every minor good that politics produces, there are warehouses of size 13 boots ready to tumble off the shelves.

Sorry if the response was longer than the blog entry, but you got me going!

Sara Paretsky said...

Libby, I didn't have the front-row seat you did, but I was one of McCarthy's Kids (I think that's what we were called) and also a Bobby enthusiast. But I am wary of a the cult of the personality, which is what we're seeing with Obama. I can think of at least one politician I voted for because he had the same airy charisma--and who not only couldn't accomplish anything, but ended up behind bars. Obama pretends to be above the fray, but his campaign sure looked pretty dirty attacking Hillary as a racist over her LBJ remark!

Libby said...

Patti, your comment surprises me. I keep running into people who seem to love Obama, to the point of ascribing him all sorts of ideas, traits and plans that seem to me to be THEIR dreams instead.

Bob.. I think you covered all the bases. But could you tell what you really think?

Sara, what I said to Patti is exactly what you said much more concisely... he does have a cult of personality... but what's underneath?

I guess we're going to find out.

Maryann Mercer said...

Libby, the more I hear Obama, the more I'm wary of him. I'm on the older side of Baby Booming, but that isn't the issue. I believe that in ten years, Senator Obama would make a fine, seasoned, and internationally experienced Commander In Chief. For me, he's been the 21th century equivalent of a "happening". He's represented Illinois in the Senate less than one full term and most of the past two years has been running for president. I haven't checked his voting record, but I know Hillary is getting chastised for her absenses and would bet he's been absent more than present as well.Yes, Hillary has baggage, but I like her experience in the international arena.
I supported John Edwards, so I'm still not committed, whatever the above seems to suggest. I need more of the "how we'll do it" on issues concerning me (health care,salvaging the economy, education, and Iraq for a few)from both candidates before I choose; McCain might have been an option once, but now not for me at all.
Thanks for your well-thought out post.

guyot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
guyot said...

I supported Edwards - the ONLY one in the race who has never taken a dime from special interest. Ever.

Now, I want to like Obama. I really, really do. Mostly because I know how horrible Hillary is - talk to people who used to work for/with the Clintons.

But here is what I truly hate whenever I think of Obama:

In 1999 he was the only Illinois State Senator to vote against a bill barring early release for criminal sex offenders.

The only one. Why? He never said.

I, too, have a daughter. Two. And what scares me more in 2008 than the whole "if they get pregnant" thing is the whole "if there's a sex offender crossing their path."

It'd be so much easier (for me) if Edwards were still in it.

But heck, some Republicans say McCain is more liberal than Obama. ;-)

edired said...

It's nice to see some others see the little sneer lurking behind Obama's smile . With the coverage he has been getting I wonder he hasn't already been " Canonized " . I did Vietnam on foot with a rifle and there is no way you make the world safer with a gun . The truth of war is it's like shooting at a mirror . The young die and the greedy stack their coin . I don't get the Clinton hate but then I've never met the lady . Unfortunatly I subscribe to Issac Asimov 's line . When asked about intelligent life on other.planets he replied he wasn't sure it existed on this one .

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm the only one here who still is rooting for Obama. I don't need to "like" a candidate to vote for them. I do need to see something that makes me think it won't be 4 more years of the same old s***.

I think Obama will be a good president BECAUSE he is younger & has small children & hopefully isn't as cynical as people posting on this blog.

I'm a young boomer (45) and I have a son who will be old enough to draft before the next (2012) presidential election. I think Obama is more diplomatic than Clinton or McCain and is less likely to do something that will result in my child being blown up over oil.

Hillary does not play well with others---this will translate into foreign policy is she's elected. McCain is too scary to contemplate.

Anonymous said...

Obama- I think heis a shyster throuhg and through. he has a record a mile longand 1/16thof an inch deep. Whathas he achieved except for gettinga position,and then using it to get to another one?
Iam non-caucasian,and I will say this- thata lot of Obama supporters support him, becasuse it makes thenm feel good. They can feel all self-righteous and feel less guilty becasue they are supporting a black man for the top job in the country.
Whether he really means what he says, or whether he has the desire to do the right things doesnt matter. Obama is cool,and people are jumping on the Obama bandwagon to be "cool".
Not a good reason to choose a person for the President's job.

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