Forty Years in the Wilderness

There’s been a lot of smoke and noise generated about how Obama thinks he is Moses.

But I think he’s more like Joshua.

Think about it.  Not just the broad, humanitarian left, but the Nation as a whole has been in a political wilderness for 40 years, ever since the impression of “disorder” and “chaos” in 1968 did so much to strike fear in the hearts of many Americans.  The fearful were largely good-hearted Americans who wanted nothing more than to go about their business, with a flawed but seemingly fair tax system, a health care system that was largely private but seemed to work, and civil rights laws that seemed to promise that the Civil War might finally be over.  

But fear of the Demon Sixties, or fear of dark forces conspiring to take away our civil liberties; fear of Hoover’s FBI and COINTELPRO and a dozen bogeymen with cameras and bugs spying on activists and peace freaks and civil rights workers; fear that someone had their hands in your wallet — all of those fears, muddled together, led to 40 years of aimless wandering and total distrust of our political institutions, on both the left and the right. Or at least it seems that way to someone who lived during the Sixties.

It’s hard not to see the past 40 years as anything but a span of time when a generation who thought they’d gained freedom and initiated an Age of Aquarius, instead found themselves wandering in the desert, unable to win elections, unable to affect policy significantly, except when they were abused and thus used by their opponents as examples to scare the rest of the flock.  

That generation (of which I, at 49, suppose I am at least a token member) it seems to me, “we” never went away, but we did go private.  We largely withdrew from direct political involvement, or we engaged in politics against the stream because to do otherwise was just not conscionable.  Those of us who turned away from civic responsibilities did so in many cases, based on the fear that anything we did politically was likely to be turned against itself.  I can’t say now that was a wrong assessment of the reality.

In other words, we did go into the wilderness.  We vanished into the desert, one way or another.  Even if we watered down our original convictions in order to “seem viable” as political candidates, this was one more kind of vanishing act.

Others may have avoided politics out of fear of the forces with money and a will to power, forces that seemed unstoppable.  We comforted ourselves with reminders that our nemeses, while they were scary, were also silly, and their efforts more often than not were largely meaningless, especially in a nation that held so few checks and balances on corporate power and influence-peddling.

Politics became largely irrelevant to many, once it became clear that huge corporations were the ones that held the greatest sway at many levels of everyday life.  It was hard to convince yourself that politics even mattered, when there seemed to be little chance that politics and government were going to do anything to check what were seen as the real powers that were .

If you went to Sunday School as I did, you probably recall that Moses never, in the end, made it to the Promised Land.  But he did appoint Joshua, as a member of the generation that came after those who fled Egypt, to carry forward his ideas and bring the people into Israel at long last.

On Tuesday, despite having voted in every Presidential election since the first one I was eligible for, and having voted in most of the local and congressional elections I was eligible to vote in, on Tuesday I find myself contemplating a vote for the first candidate of any party where I will be voting for the candidate, rather than against the opponent.  And in some ways that scares me, since I’m voting for him in part because I agree that we need a president who sees it as his job to serve the interests of all, or at least the vast, super-majority of Americans.  Others have said similar things, but Obama is the first one I’ve seen in 40 years who I feel I can take pretty much at his word.  

I find it hard to be an optimist, having grown up in the aftermath of three assassinations (and two botched attempted assassinations) and many stolen elections, but I actually find myself hoping that this is a sea-change that will finally bring about some restoration of faith in the possibility that the democratic process can work for the common good.

But that will ultimately be proven after the election, and only if those of us infected by the past 40 years manage to actually go to the polls and cast our votes, alongside those whose memories or experience do not include what some of us thought was our escape from Pharoah.  

Please, please, please, even if you are in the bluest of blue states or the reddest of the red (my birthplace, the state of Utah) do your civic duty and vote and give Obama a chance to prove that we are the United States.

By the way, Studs Terkel was Moses.


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    • Edger on November 3, 2008 at 02:12

    on Tuesday and things are handled right the republicans could be beginning their own 40 year wander in a very dry desert, too.

  1. I had completely lost faith in our electoral politics. My thinking was that the MICMC picked the candidates and then the media spun narratives to assure the winner.

    Back then, I assumed we’d have Guliani vs Clinton.

    The primaries indicated to me that, while we still have a long way to go, the people’s voice CAN be heard. Whether you like the two they chose or not.

    So, my faith in the democratic process has been a bit restored. If Obama is elected…it goes up just one more notch.

  2. …but I’ll be back tomorrow.

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