I'll be scarce this week, taken up with things more personal and pressing than a national election, which is not to say that I've no interest in the fact that this country - which I used to call my country - is about to lurch leftward in a fashion unprecedented (indeed, prior to this moment, I'd have said unthinkable) in its history. A tie to the past is being cut, and a new thing is taking over. John McCain, in spite of his faults, is a symbol (though no less flesh and blood for that) of a former time, of those who believed in revering and emulating the sacrifices of their predecessors, of honoring them in our collective memory, and of never failing to thank them for it in public ritual. It once seemed an urgent matter that an ineffable sense of gratitude be passed down through the generations. In the course of his erratic campaign, a formerly oft-heard slogan has disappeared, the one urging that we ought to serve something greater than ourselves.
That's all gone now. I've been taking an informal sampling of students' opinions, and I can assure you that McCain's having been tortured beyond endurance in a Vietnamese prison camp exercises their sympathies in the same way that a yawn enervates the jaws. Vietnam really is so yesterday. Its history doesn't touch them. What matters is that McCain is old, not new and exciting. He's also responsible for the economic collapse, or, at least, he doesn't know what to do about it.
"I can't identify with him."
"Voting for him would be like voting for Bush all over again." (If you think those media soundbites have no effect, you're wrong. Heads are full of them, and it's easier than thinking.)
But, I point out, you didn't vote for Bush. You were too young four years ago. Well, yeah, but...They're not bothered by an inability to respond. They know what they want. Desire, enthusiasm is all.
My favorite entrance pollees were those who had written research papers against abortion. "Who you votin' for?"
"You do realize that he and you are on opposite sides of this issue."
"Well, I'm not voting for him for that reason."
"But you said here that abortion is murder. Is there some issue more important than that?" Well, no, but...
Some of them are aghast that Obama is one of a very few senators who voted against the partial birth abortion ban (though a few ask, "What's that?"). They actually don't know this about him. And yet I sense no movement.
Another says, "What about the economy? Why does everything come back to abortion?" I say I guess it doesn't, if you consider money more important than life. She gives me a strange look.
Says another, "Oh, I'd never get one myself. Besides which my mother would kill me. But I don't really care what other people do." That, I say, is a prescription for moral chaos. She shrugs.
There was one girl of Latin derivation, Puerto Rican I think, to whom I'd like to pay tribute. All of her friends are voting for Obama. When she tells them she's voting for McCain, they start yelling at her, calling her crazy, insane, a traitor. A traitor to what? she asks. To your race. But I'm not black! she protests. And besides, what's race got to do with it? Well, McCain's white. She stands her ground, but I can tell her feelings have been hurt. I tell her I hope she gets to keep her friends, but if doing so means sacrificing her principles, maybe they aren't worth keeping. She says she's not budging. They won't change her. Man, sometimes you never know what's hiding behind those faces.
But if things go as expected tomorrow (today), you won't be able to blame this generation of youngsters. They can't do it alone. They need grownups to help out. That would be their parents and in some cases their grandparents. A different generation. In other words, My Generation. The Boomers I think we're called.
I remember the Weather Underground; I was barely older than most of these students when it was active. In these latter years I can't figure out how Ayers and Dohrn might have been even one moral cut above the fellows who blew up the Twin Towers. But I remember, maybe even from my own lips, the murmured admiration for those who had the guts to do what no one else did. But the Weather Underground is unknown history to the young of today, and the Boomers who have sired them and directed the various levels of their education from their tenured redoubts in the academy and the federal bureaucracy are protective of, and nostalgic about, their former sympathies. These were the glory days of their youth.
It was indeed my generation that brought a strain of liberalism to its place of ruinous prominence, and which I thought had found its most publicly admirable apotheosis in the person of the philandering, perjuring, pot-smoking, draft-dodging William Jefferson Clinton. But I was wrong. Clinton was only the storm front. Obama is the whirlwind. It was my generation that made drug use (and contempt for the law) respectable. We made education universal and ideological. We made lust, not war; we made it "free" and children became an annoyance. We liberated women by encouraging them to leave the home, after first enslaving them to birth control and opening their wombs to the executioner's blade. We fulfilled the promise of free speech by rendering religion irrelevant in the "marketplace" of ideas. We loved peace almost to the point of pacifism (unless the violence was being incited by the Chicago 7), and the founding ideals of our country so much that we never tired of exercising our first amendment right to convey the degree of our hatred for it. There's an essay to be written about it all, but it's a very long one. In the meantime, I compensate by condemning in others what I most despise in my own past. You can thank me later for the diagnosis.