Barack Obama and I have at least one thing in common: We were both born in the only year that if you turn it upside down, it still says the same thing. (1961; try it; see?) (Whenever I hear one of his opponents say he’s too young, I get a glint in my eye and a kick in my step.) A lot happened that year, but the biggie, the event that would eventually lead to other events which would loom larger as national shame and horror, was the inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as the 35th president of the United States, which set a precedent and cast a promise. (No doubt any day now, a photo will emerge of Kennedy holding a young Obama on a visit to a Hawaiin nursery.) My first conscious memory is of my mom crying over the dishes and me looking up at her from our yellow linoleum floor and asking, “What’s wrong Mommy?” “The president’s been assassinated.” I rolled my eyes when I heard a commentator presume that Obama was too young to remember the Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations which followed like latent aftershocks — will it ever be over? — seven years later. Probably like me, he remembers the footage of the scramble in the hotel after the bullet was fired that killed RFK. (Sometimes I think that bullet has been chasing my generation since 1963.) That was June 4, 1968 — 40 years ago today. (And Hilary, not having already twisted the knife in our national wound enough when she invoked RFK’s assassination as reason for her staying in the race, is now sickeningly waiting around, on this day of all days, refusing to bow out, as if — I’m sorry, but given her previous comments this reading is not too far-fetched — wanting to be in place in case something happens.) As MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said in calling Hilary out (thanks for the forward Big D), how dare she evoke, in such a profit-seeking manner, our national shame? Thanks to George Bush and his enablers — who include not just John McCain but, in the case of the Iraq invasion, Hilary Clinton — we have had a lot to be shameful about these last seven years. I don’t want to exagerrate — if I feel shame as an American abroad, it’s coming more from me than any outright chastising by my French friends — but yes as an American abroad I feel it particularly acutely, wondering if when they look at me they are seeing my country’s misdeeds.
All today however, listening to adulatory French media coverage *not just of Obama but of an America that has chosen him as one of two candidates for the presidency* — I not only tear up watching him on t.v. and listening to the coverage but I feel yes, for the first time in seven years, pride — pride in the name of love. That’s my country that might elect that guy. Born in the only year that looks the same upside down, he might be the only guy that can set my country — and its reputation in the world — rightside up.
*I use pride here in its two senses, because while they took the lives of JFK, RFK, and Dr. King, they could not take their children — and Obama is one.