Nov 4, 2008

The Great Man Theory of History

What strikes me about this, easily the most significant election of my lifetime, is that as much as it inarguably means in terms of massive historical forces and the institutions that largely shape and constrain our lives, it is just as much if not more the story of a unique individual, a leader, setting out to face those large forces and to move them. We're going to hear a lot in the coming days and years about race and symbolism, about America overcoming its racial shame, and as much truth as this train of thought may carry, in this moment I think it's worth remembering that nothing about this historic election was inevitable; that it's not some giant, deterministic narrative being shaped by forces beyond our control; that it's the result of generations of work and sacrifice by individuals who could have done otherwise. I'm resistant, in other words, to explanations and historical rationalizations--the economic crisis is to blame, the Republicans' brand is broken, Obama magically embodies some generational zeitgeist--which would in any way minimize the extraordinary individual achievements of the people who've stood up for the good and the just in this country, including this culminating figure, Barack Hussein Obama.

In related news, it's hard to express how gratified I am that the state from which the Kendt family hails, Indiana, fell (albeit narrowly) into Obama's column, and that Arizona, the state in which I was raised, was as tight as it was. I wish that my grandfather, Harold, and that my mother, Nancy (who would have been 72 today), had lived to see this day. As true-red Republican as they were, I'd like to think they'd be as proud of their country today as I am, and not least because of the history they both witnessed, to varying degrees and with varying responses, in their hometown of Gary, Indiana (I posted on this topic on Super Tuesday).

My next post will be about theater, I promise.

(Photo: Obama campaigns in Gary, Indiana.)

1 comment:

Cristofer Gross said...

Hey Rob. No apologies needed for a political column. Certainly not this week. I will believe with you that Nancy and Grampa would have set aside any post-election 'political' disappoint in favor of the Elect's invitation to come together in historic achievement. I remember my now-deceased parents when JFK was inaugurated and something called 'Camelot' (a theater reference) described the national mood, After eight years of language being one more mismanaged tool, we will have leadership that rather than stumbling over language, will uphold and glorify it. That better character of communication – for inspiration rather than propaganda – is something we in theater, with playwrights and actors at its core, have as a primary purpose. And why, during this term, words like yours will be very appropriate.