It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE INAUGURATION.
1. Jose does not often write politics in this space. It’s not that Jose doesn’t think about politics, aside from baseball and… something else, it’s almost all that he thinks about. It’s just that injecting politics into something as pure and virtuous as baseball, what with its illegal drugs and “beaver shooting,” seems like a bad gamble.
There is an old adage in politics, maybe from Barney Frank, that the problem with your candidate winning is that you will inevitably be disappointed. Jose doesn’t need that; he has gotten enough disappointment from baseball, at least prior to 2004. Thankfully, Jose hasn’t backed a lot of winners in politics, so it has been a minimal source of post inaugural disappointed. (Note: Jose just signed up on Facebook as a supporter of Michael Dukakis today. He’s no fair weather friend.)
But this year is different. This year Jose is not only setting himself up for disappointment, he is embracing it. He knows that President Obama will not make everything better, that he will not do everything right, and that he will invariably and categorically disappoint Jose and legions of other supporters sometime in the next four years. But Jose is up for it. He is eager to be disappointed by a president rather than disgusted. At this point disappointment would be a huge step up. George W. Bush disgusted Jose with his arrogance and complacent idiocy. Bill Clinton disgusted Jose with this willingness to put his personal appetites and power above the common good. George H.W. Bush, a man known for nothing if not civility, disgusted Jose with an effective yet cruel and gutless 1988 campaign against a decent man, and Ronald Reagan disgusted Jose with his indifference to the poor and his love of substituting his own Horatio Alger fantasies for the real lives of Americans.
Is there any wonder against this backdrop of indifference, arrogance, cruelty and will to power that Jose would crave the soothing salve of disappointment?
2. But today there will be no disappointment. Tomorrow perhaps, a year from now most likely, but not today. Today, like millions of Americans and perhaps a billion people around the world, Jose will witness one of those rare moments that suggests that America might be just as good as we aspire to be.
It is cliché, at this point to say that Jose never expected to see a black man elected in his lifetime, but he did not. It is not that Jose did not believe America had made progress since those gloomy days of Jim Crow or even that we are a heart a racist nation. Instead, Jose relied on practicality. He did not think that a person of color could emerge from the political process who could be viewed by the nation’s majority not as a “black politician” but as a politician who is black.
But Jose was wrong. Wonderfully deliriously wrong.
When we wake up on Wednesday, there will still be racism in America. There will still be poverty and we will still be at war. But everything will not be the same. We will not be a society that is “post-racial” whatever that means, but we will, at least, be a society that is capable of looking beyond race, at least on Election Day. Much like, baseball after Jackie Robinson opened the majors to black players, America will be, more than ever, a place where at the highest levels we are using the greatest talents of our finest citizens.
3. It hit Jose this evening as he was watching a clip of Pete Seeger singing, “This Land is Your Land” at the concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The old man was plucking away on his banjo and shouting out verses to the crowd with a gleam in his eye that hinted at joy bordering on disbelief.
It’s not that Jose agrees with Seeger’s politics, Jose is far too cynical for that, but he is enamored of the idea that someone who was literally blacklisted can be invited into the heart of the American celebration. Redemption, restoration, reunification, these are good values. These are American values. Jose only wishes that Lee Greenwood or Ted Nugent had been invited to sing along, though Jose doubts either would have accepted.
Jose hopes that Seeger’s inclusion is a symbol, a sign that not only will this administration be about moving beyond the racial and cultural politics that have been so divisive, but beyond the endless refighting of old battles. Jose no longer cares what you thought about Vietnam, he never wants to hear it in another election again, nor does he want to hear liberalism decried as communism or conservatism as fascism. He cares about a politician’s opinion on Vietnam about as much as he cares about his opinion on the Spanish-American War. Jose cares about someone’s red sympathies about as much as he cares about someone’s sympathies for the Cincinnati Reds.
What Jose saw it Seeger’s eyes that was so delightful was the acknowledgement that perhaps America really can change, that it really can be the place that we want it to be. And for today he is right. Today, if not tomorrow, America is as good as its promise.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE INAUGURATION