PLEASE NOTE: I have never used the word "stellar" in my life. Honest, I haven't!
Forgive the cliche but Barack and Michelle took Europe by storm. It was the kind of shot-in-the-arm publicity that comes along very rarely; the type of publicity that this country was desperate for. After eight years of the my-way-or-the-highway, half-witted, cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush and the extremist assholes he surrounded himself with, the contrasts are impossible to ignore. The comparisons are literally screaming to be made. As a public service, please allow me to make them....
I'll never forget the first time I ever laid eyes on George W. Bush. It was twenty-one years ago in the Spring of 1988 during his father's South Carolina primary campaign. He was being interviewed on NBC News and I can remember my response like it was yesterday:
"My goodness! The boy is dumber than dog shit, isn't he?"
If you had told me right then and there that in thirteen years this inarticulate little guttersnipe would be sitting in the Oval Office, I probably would have smiled gently, patted you on the hand and replied, "Please, may I have just a little toke of what you're smoking? Oh, please! Oh, please! Oh, please???"
When he announced his candidacy in the autumn of 1999, I remember saying to someone, "Wouldn't it be great if the Republicans nominated this knucklehead? The guy is so mind-numbingly stupid, he doesn't stand a chance on Election Day. The American people just aren't that dumb!" When he finally did get the nomination at the GOP convention in the summer of 2000, I thought that the Democrats had hit the jackpot:
"Al Gore vs. George W. Bush? GEORGE W. FREAKING BUSH?"
This is gonna be like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought. The American people wouldn't be foolish enough to send this moron to the White House! Ain't ever gonna happen! No way, baby!
I stand corrected. So sue me.
Comparing Barack Obama to George W. Bush is about as unfair as comparing the acting abilities of Lawrence Olivier to those of Larry the Cable Guy. Unfair but irresistible! Last week, for the first time since I was in kindergarten, a chief executive we could really be proud of stood on the world stage and transformed the badly tarnished image of this country. Not since 1941, when President Roosevelt took up arms against Adolf Hitler, have American/European relations been given a greater shot of adrenaline. It was a remarkable thing to behold.
As president, Bill Clinton represented his country well and with great skill and diplomacy. But (let's face some uncomfortable facts here) it was kind of hard to be bursting at the seams with pride over poor old Bubbah - the man was seriously flawed. Not since Jack and Jackie Kennedy have the people of Europe taken an American First Family to heart as they have this one (And don't kid yourselves - they couldn't stand the Reagans). They respected - even liked - Bill and Hillary, no question about it. But they're just wild about Barack and Michelle. It reminded me of the Beatles' 1964 invasion of America in reverse.
We have to be honest with ourselves. The rest of the world has become somewhat bewildered in the last forty years at the quality of our leaders. Can you even imagine how they would have reacted had we sent a doddering old reactionary like John McCain to the White House last November? Are you able to contemplate the utter horror the rest of the planet would have felt had the American electorate put a white trash diva like Sarah Palin "a seventy-two-year-old heartbeat" away from the presidency? I seriously doubt that America's prestige would have ever been able to recover from something like that. The blow would have been fatal. The election of President Obama has sent a signal that we are open to change. We may have to be dragged into that change kicking and screaming, but we're open to it nonetheless.
The last eight years have proven (one would hope forever) the utter bankruptcy of the GOP's philosophy of governance. If America ever chooses to go down that road again, we'll deserve everything that happens to us. Each time in our past that the "plutocracy" (READ: Loony right wing) was able to seize control of all three branches of our government, they ruined this country economically. Have the American people finally learned the lesson lesson they should have learned nearly a century-and-a-half ago during the Grant administration? Judging by their history, probably not. We shall see.
After eight years of George W. Bush's Death Valley, Barack Obama is the proverbial mountaintop. Just knowing that there is a guy in charge who can put two coherent sentences together without the aid of a team of speechwriters and a state-of-the-art teleprompter is something we used to take for granted in this country. Now it seems a luxury. True, as stated at the top of this piece, Team Obama is far from perfect and is in much need of a bit of an overhaul. But when placed in juxtaposition to the Nightmare Years 2001-2009, the dissimilarities are striking and refreshing. It's almost like comparing Bobo the Simpleminded to Albert Einstein; or Charles Manson to Mother Theresa; or George Washington to - well - George W. Bush.
I don't know about you, but I've been sleeping a lot sounder since January 20, 2009.
Most people are under the impression that the modern civil rights movement began late one afternoon in December 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man. They're off by almost seventeen years. It really began on Easter Sunday 1939 - seventy years ago this Thursday. Stay tuned.