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Dwelling on a grim future the other evening where I saw myself amid the ruins of a blasted economy trying to figure out how to make a cool wardrobe from sackcloth and ashes I heard the voice of Senator Barack Obama and his calls to hope.
The Senator tells us that change (once known as reform) is right around the corner if we only allow ourselves to “hope” for “hope can never be false.” That should do it then. But I have to admit I’ve never been a good hoper. Like the British post-World War II artist Francis Bacon once said, “I’m an optimist. I’m optimistic about nothing.” You need only look at his paintings to know he meant it.
Obama is America’s feel good candidate, the let-us-off-the-hook guy. In one fell swoop white Americans have been blessed with his non-challenging attitude. Unlike an Al Sharpton or a Jesse Jackson, whites are no longer assumed to be racists until they prove themselves otherwise. Obama gives us the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps this release of moral tension from the terrible burden whites have been dealing with for so many years is what’s causing their genuine emotional reaction to his rhetoric. Who knows, maybe his forgiveness is all we need to jump start our rotten economy which will spill over into our “changing the world.” Something else he told us we could do if we only hoped hard enough.
A long time ago, amidst dark skies and deep bewilderment a great economic crisis came to a thunderous climax in America. A hero emerged against the backdrop of horrible villains. A Republican president along with the bankers and the big business men had hurled the country into economic despair. Farmers were in revolt dumping wheat into ditches. Fires were tiny cinders in factory furnaces while millions of men were idle. People turned toward Washington and the new savior who was going to stem the tide of paralysis. Salvation was in the air in the form of Franklin Roosevelt whose confident smiling face gave the people: hope.
And just as importantly, repeal. Two weeks before FDR gave his inaugural address, the one where he told a hopeful citizenry that the only thing to fear was fear itself, (no politician has ever topped that line) a lame-duck Congress ended Prohibition. Forty-one legislatures rushed into session to approve the amendment that would give the towns, the states, the country something to tax. Liquor. Too bad that in 2008 we don’t have Prohibition to overturn. A whole lot of people were made instantly happy whether they had hope or not in 1933.
Yet, Obama’s forgiveness of whites may be like the repeal of Prohibition. The first shot of booze after so many long years of going without, of sneaking around trying to prove ourselves worthy of redemption from something we can never be redeemed. We can get drunk off his forgiveness, his fine words and inspiring phrases. And then, as he tells us we should, we’ll set out to change the world. One more time, with feeling. And hope.
Maybe that’s why I can’t get the paintings of Francis Bacon out of my mind.
EVA LIDDELL is a painter who lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her email is Eva.Liddell@gmail.com