Nepali Times
The Obama inheritance


It's hard to explain to our children what the Obama win means to those of us born of an earlier generation. For many of us, the 2008 election is the completion of the fatally truncated election of 1968?the year of our earliest political education and, tragically, our loss of innocence in the American political process.

I was all of 14 in June 1968, yet full of the enthusiasm that youthful ambition can bring to its inchoate hopes and dreams. Already it had been a momentous, agonised and decisive year.

From LBJ's near-defeat in New Hampshire to Bobby Kennedy's announcement he would run for the Democratic nomination against Gene McCarthy, through the brutal murder of Martin Luther King in Memphis, 1968 had already been a year of profound anger and agony in American politics.

Then, in June, as I slept, with a small black and white tv at the foot of my bed, I woke with a sense of disbelief and confusion after I'd fallen asleep waiting for the results of the Democratic primary in California.

Although RFK had won Indiana, Gene McCarthy had then won in Oregon and all knew the winner of the winner-takes-all California primary (so different from this year's Democratic primary rules) would be the 1968 Democratic Party nominee. That victor would then most likely win this turbulent election to hopefully lead the country out of its devastating war in Vietnam and towards the fulfillment of a civil rights movement that had sputtered then burned on the streets of Watts, Washington and Detroit after King's assassination that spring.

As I awoke staring at the tv, I realized that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after Bobby Kennedy's victory speech. There were people weeping, crying and screaming on the screen. As I ran upstairs to my parents' room and opened the door, one of them said, softly, painfully: "Senator Kennedy has been shot."

40 years later, that scene still fills me with sorrow. The scars of that election, sundered by assassination and paroxysms of street violence, still wound. The end result led to seven more years of war by a presidency that ended in the resignation of both the vice-president and the president, for corruption and abuse of authority respectively.
We had reached the nadir of American politics in our lifetime. Now, 40 years later, Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy may be looking down with pride on their beloved America.

This week, with the election of Barack Obama, a black and white man, a dignified, eloquent and compassionate man with a wise wife and lovely daughters who represent the best that America can offer, the ghosts of 1968 may at last be laid to rest.

The incomplete campaign of 1968 that meant so much to a teenage American has taken a generation to fulfill its natural goal, an arc of accomplishment, an epiphany of sorts.

Through this election, we can once again believe that the United States of America is a better country than we sometimes imagine, and still hope she offers an unfulfilled promise for people everywhere in this diverse, interconnected world.

For no matter how Obama governs in the coming years (and I believe it will be for the best), a long shadow of hate, discrimination and intolerance is being put to rest.

Now, when our children read of racism in To Kill A Mockingbird or hear the idealism in Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, they will know that, although it took the framework of an 18th century constitution, a cruel 19th century civil war and long decades of 20th century suffering, the fulfilment of that noble, democratic enterprise-that all men and women are created equal-has come closer in the 21st century's first decade.

A year ago, when my family sat in Kathmandu watching Bobby, the exquisite, Altman-esque film about RFK's assassination, I was surprised to hear my son, Ezra, say afterwards: "That movie made me proud to be an American!"

Although a film about a deadly political assassination, I understood Ezra was speaking of the individual lives who found a purpose through Kennedy's inspiration and motivation. That RFK's message touched so many people at that time gave Ezra hope and, possibly, a greater determination to do something meaningful with his own young life as well.

Maybe, 40 years later, Barack Obama has offered our whole nation, indeed people around the world, this renewed opportunity as well.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)