Monday, March 5, 2007

The Battle of Selma

By all rights the celebration of the 42nd anniversary of the march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama should have been just that: a recognition of how much has changed since those dark confrontations during the Civil Rights struggle. Unfortunately, with both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton in town for the event, the theme of the anniversary was reduced to a side-show. A lot of innocent blood was shed 42 years ago in what was supposed to have been a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery. This time the press was there in full force expecting a different kind of bloodshed.

I watched the video coverage from both the BBC and ABC. It goes without saying that I have no idea how extensively that material was edited, so I have to begin with the observation that the rest of this analysis is based on what was probably a too-limited point of view. Nevertheless, I feel it important to comment that my primary impression was of how uncomfortable both candidates appeared to be. Perhaps each was uncomfortable because of the presence of the other, but I think that is just the surface manifestation of a deeper problem.

In one church we had Obama, sitting in a sort of detached isolation from the celebratory congregation and looking for all the world as if he wanted to be somewhere else. Then he ascended to the altar to address the congregation; and it was as if, once again, he was struggling to establish his credentials. His delivery was neither stirring nor audacious; and "hope" did not appear to be in his working vocabulary.

Down the street in another church, Hillary had all of her rhetorical guns out in full force. Indeed, I might have marked it down as the best performance I have seen from her had she not belabored her use of the first-person plural; and after a while all I could think of was the final punch line to that great Mad Magazine parody of The Lone Ranger. Those unfamiliar with the joke can follow the hyperlink I have provided. In this age of Political Correctness, many have accused it of being a racist slur. It is nothing of the sort. It is the deft use of humor to reveal a truth that many would prefer to leave unspoken and a celebration of just how good Mad Magazine could be when they were at the top of their game.

Then there was John Lewis, tapped for a sound byte by ABC News (with good reason, since he was one of the Selma marchers who got beaten up by the police). He was uncomfortable with the prospect of having to make a choice between these two would-be candidates; and he gets points from me for being open about his discomfort. He still speaks from a position of authority; but, unlike many with similar status, he appreciates (perhaps painfully) the responsibility of that position. If he declares a preference, one can imagine that he will have many followers; and I sympathize with his being in a position that makes it almost impossible to make a reasoned decision.

Come to think of it, in all the footage I saw, the most comfortable person there was Bill Clinton. He was back in the element he has loved so much and for so long, chatting away with that enthusiasm that brought us to him as a candidate. It made me regret, once again, just how much of his second term was wasted over hyper-partisan bickering and downright stupid errors of judgment.

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