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The Kerry What-If

What if John Kerry had won the presidency in 2004?  It was a close election; one can easily imagine a small thing — even, for example, an adequate response on his part to the Swift Boat nonsense — tipping that election in the other direction.

We would have seen the dirty laundry of the Bush Administration dragged out into the light a little earlier and a little more completely.  But, being the laundry of the prior government, it probably wouldn’t have garnered as much attention.  More importantly, though, I don’t think there’s anything Kerry could or would have done to avert the oncoming economic collapse.  Even if he had had the eyes to see it, politically he wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to take the sweeping action needed to stem the tide.  Especially because he would probably have had to contend with a Republican congress throughout his term — in 2006, with the housing market already in the tank and a Democrat in the White House, would the country have backlashed against Republicans quite so decisively?

If Kerry had run for re-election in 2008 with anything similar to our current economic conditions, there’s no way he would have won.  When folks aren’t happy with their economic lot they vote the current clowns out and the new clowns in.  He would have lost, probably to McCain, who would not have had to thread the needle of being a Republican but distancing himself from recent Republican rule.  And we would be going forward from today without historic, awesome, kick-assedness of Barack Obama.

So thank you, George Bush, for winning in 2004.  And to everyone who said at the time, “Maybe it’s best if he does win.  Let his chickens come home to roost.” — You were right.

Living in History

I have a brother who is biracial, half-white, half-African American, and every time I see a picture of Barack Obama when he was young, especially the ones when he’s with his white mother, I feel a shock of recognition.  I have a daughter a little younger than Obama’s two daughters, and every time I see them coming out onto the stage I tear up in spite of myself.  (I even find the younger one charming when she’s shamelessly mugging for the camera.)

There is no doubt that by electing him America is growing up.  And of course his politics coincide with mine.  Countless people can claim far closer connections to him than my tenuous ones.  But he will be my President in a way that no one has in my lifetime.  And I think he has a shot at being the great President he is asking us to help him to be.

It’s a great night.

Skeletons for Obama

I’m enjoying my first-ever experience as The Dude Hanging Out Candy On His Front Stoop tonight.  In fact, I’m doing it as we speak, because the trick-or-treaters are fairly sporadic so I brought the ol’ Macbook outside with me.

And I just had my first experience with Scruffy Teenagers Hoarding Candy.  These gentlemen did have costumes, though, which is more than I could say for myself for that year or two when I had no business trick-or-treating but did it anyway for the sugar rush.  There were two of them and they took as excessive-but-not-insulting amount of candy from the bowl.  On their way back to the sidewalk one of them eyed the yard signs in front or our house and our neighbors’.

He stopped and turned around.  Then pointed to our Obama sign.  “Is this yours?”

“Yep,” I said.

Then he pointed to the ones in our neighbors’ yard.  (We have a shared stoop so it kind of looks like one yard.)  “And what are those?  Your neighbors?”

“LEON!  Shut up!  Let’s go!” said his friend.

“But they’ve got a McCain sign!” the first guy blurted.

They didn’t, actually, but the Mark Warner for Senate sign has a similar lettering and layout to a lot of McCain signs.  Only so many ways you can do red, white, blue, and authoritative lettering, I guess.

“Read the sign, fool,” said the second guy, “It’s Obama, Warner, Moran.  President, Senate, House.  Come on, let’s go.”

And off they went, leaving me to wonder what Tricks McCain fans might be in for in this neighborhood, or whether it was just the sheer incongruity of the possibility of a McCain sign in northern Alexandria that threw him for a loop.

He’s Winning, Poor Guy

At this point, Obama is very likely to be our next President.  And I pity him.  He was already going to inherit a hard, thankless job even before our economy imploded.  Now he’s going to take office, like Thomas Carcetti, under a withering financial burden that will likely hobble most if not all of his policy ambitions, at least for the first couple of years.  (And unlike Carcetti, he won’t have a still higher office he can ascend to, for better or worse.)  Even if he proves up to the challenges of the Presidency, he will probably become unpopular as his Administration is saddled with the twin impossibilities of “fixing” the economy and Iraq.  He will almost certainly face a tough reelection campaign in 2012.  (Though, if the Republicans continue to self-destruct, who knows?)

But for all that I’d much rather have him in there than McCain.  This isn’t a time when we can afford to stick the shit job to the other guy and hope for a better hand of cards in four years — if there ever is such a time.

And there remains also that ray of hope — that Obama really will be All That.  A unifying figure.  An inspiration.  Someone who can capture the popular imagination and motivate all of us to work together for a better America.  I won’t be voting for him expecting any of that, but at least he has it in him to be that guy, if enough people decide to let him.  If he wins I’ll be open to it.  Both he and we will need all the help we can get.

Five (spoiler-free) Sentences concerning Anathem

If you are a diehard Stephenson fan, an astronomer, a physicist concerned with quantam mechanics, a philosopher interested in phase space, or some combination of the above, you will love this book.  If what irks you about Stephenson novels is the way that every fourth chapter ends up being a talking-head diversion into the minutiae of science, history, or culture, then at all costs stay away — it makes The Baroque Cycle or Cryptonomicon look like beach reading by comparison.

But, if you read some of excerpts that are floating around out there and found the wall of bizarre terminology a bit off-putting and maybe even gimmicky (as I did when I first read it), have no fear on that account.  It takes a bit of careful reading and attention to detail at the beginning — nothing too terrible, think Gene Wolfe lite — but once you get into the swing of things after the first hundred pages or so, all the new vocabulary comes quite naturally and it really does succeed in immersing you into what is truly a remarkable bit of world-building.

Prepare to be mildly disappointed in the emotional depth of the characters, however likeable they may be, but also be prepared to have your head explode so many times in the last two hundred pages that you just don’t care.

Dr. Horrible

If you are human, and especially if you are a Joss Whedon fan, go watch Dr. Horrible and if you haven’t heard anything about it yet I recommend watching the first episode before you find out anything about it at all.