Thursday, June 11, 2009

#113 Obama and Me--Grant Park Revisited

Yes ... we're up and running, but please see #112 for an introduction to this post.

#105---What a difference in the post-election speeches of the two candidates!?--well ... venue-wise, at least. Because, in fact, they were very much alike. Switch a few words related to winning or losing, obviously, and each could have read the other one's speech without too much damage to essential content and tone. Both candidates were gracious and deferential ...

#113--- ... McCain so much so indeed that his kind words about fellow-senator Obama incited groans, cat-calls, and even boos when he called him his "good friend." Despicable behavior, but by this time to be expected from the kind of hate-filled crowds that he and Palin and fellow-traveling speechifiers were drawing in the last months of the campaign.

I want to talk mainly, though, about the wildly contrasting VENUES that seem to define the candidates and their campaigns even unto the last moments. It's all in the symbols, the PR perceptions maybe. But the Grant Park Chicago location for Obama's victory speech has personal and historical resonance for me. Just look at the physiognomy of the two places: Las Vegas Hilton convention hall versus Grant Park concert bowl. Not only half-a-continent, but worlds apart. Look at them: you've got the enclosed, private and exclusive versus the open, public, and free. (In fact, the Hilton space would literally have been that "smoke-filled room" of bad political omen in earlier, less health-minded times.) More: dry, desert playground of the conspicuously rich, "paying" customers and supporters versus well ... them too, but also whoeverthehellelse wanted to wander in from the green, breezy lakefront . Here again it's that constricted smallness of McCain-dom (tiny-minded, mean-spirited people and places) as opposed to the expansive and inclusive world of Obamaland. Like Alice's claustrophobic underground compared to the wide, wonderful world of Oz that I alluded all about in #102-3.

And Grant Park is a beautiful place, day or night. Obama's audience that evening would have sparkly Lake Michigan beach-front on one side and the lights of Michigan Avenue's "magnificent mile" on the other. Been there many, many times in my youth, especially to the renowned Field Museum of Natural History and the Shedd Aquarium nearby. Not much over 10 minutes and only10 cents by CTA bus from the South Shore. It's appropriately for Obama a "people's park"--free art and science and history museums, free open-air summer concerts, where me-and-a-girl-and-a-blanket could enjoy a very cheap date (for real) during my late high-school years. (I had a friend and fellow-percussion-student at American Conservatory who was good enough to gig on tympani in that off-season version of the famed Chicago Symphony.) And lo, years later there would be Obama performing in the very same band shell! One more: during the last two summers of suburban high-school I took the train all the way to the "Loop" to work in the mail-room at Quaker Oats (Merchandise Mart). Guess what: I was third-baseman on the their softball team after work on the fields of nearby ... Grant Park. Good times.

But no doubt the Obama team was parlaying Grant Park's historical/political angle too, because a little more than 40 years earlier in the summer of '68 it was the site of a true "people's park" rebellion--the anti-Vietnam "youth" protests at the Democratic Convention that ended up as a bloody police riot instigated and carried out (as the official investigation proved) by Mayor Daley's Finest. Chicago Seven and all that. You've heard of it. I was long gone but had a good friend and colleague later on who was right in the thick of it and had the psychological scars to prove it. LBJ's henchman in that ill-conceived and endless war (or so it seemed at even that early date) was up-for-nomination Hubert "Dump the Hump" Humphrey, who decided waaaay too late, shortly before his defeat by Nixon in November, that it might be a good idea to just PULL THE TROOPS OUT. Of course this was always the intention of the then-late Bobby Kennedy (even though his brother had paved the way for LBJ's excesses), who doubtless would have won the nomination in what would then have been a pacific Chicago ... and Grant Park, as flower-children peacefully frolicked and skinny-dipped in Buckingham Fountain. "What if" ... indeed.

I couldn't vote for the Hump. Nor Tricky Dick ... who notoriously and mendaciously, as it turned out, "had a secret plan to end the war." Nixon won, and we had SIX MORE YEARS of it. Well, Obama got my anti-war vote this time around. So he had HIS extravaganza in Grant Park, where he promised a new era of Change You Can Believe In that would have pleased the hippie-youth of forty years ago ... and where, as I recall, he said something about ending the war in the Middle East. But wait. Are we out of it yet? I think I'm getting queasy. Yes, the Economy tanked, and health care reform is urgent--people are dying for lack of it. But people are getting killed in Iraq for no goddam good reason at all.

Do we have some broken promises here? A breach of trust? Answers to these and other questions coming soon--I PROMISE--so stay tuned.

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