Sunday, October 22, 2006

Never in my wildest dreams ... .

would I ever have believed that I might someday visit a historic site that I still remember so vividly -- but at a time in life when I've now lived long enough to see the end results of the sacrifices made by the young people who lived it.

The experience at Little Rock held so many surprises that I'm not sure that I can find the words to describe it. But I owe it to those brave young souls to try.

Central High School will celebrate the 50th anniversay of the transforming events next fall. Since that time the site has become a part of the National Park System with a reception center under construction across the street, and full staffing already in operation.

While this magnificent structure continues to be a fulltime racially integrated high school (9th through 12th), it also is serving as a national park with ongoing tours ("...though we're careful to not interfere with those times when the bell rings and kids are moving from class to class ..."). The students and faculty know that they are playing a continuing educational role in the nation's history, and it shows. The buildings are meticulously maintained with gleaming tile floors, and everything "company ready" at all times. But mostly the curriculum continues to reflect the lessons of the times when Governor Faubus defied presidential orders to desegregate. Oh that we in the west had come to terms with the changing world as well. Any illusion that the west was ahead in this struggle disappeared somewhere on that walk through the halls of Central High.

Signs of the progress made under a very young 3-term Governor Bill Clinton are everywhere in Little Rock. A visit to the Presidential Library on Saturday dispelled any leftover feelings of resistance to the Clinton legacy and -- in its place -- came a strong feeling that I would do almost anything to extend the influence of that young couple, warts and all!

There is a replica of the oval office on the second floor of the Clinton Library with the huge round conference table (made by the manufacturers of the original in the White House), with each impressive high-backed chair bearing a bronze plaque on the back of which is the name and position of the cabinet member. In the spirit of exorcising long distance -- I sat for at least ten minutes in the chair to the immediate right of the president's chair that was marked, "Secretary of State." Laughed to myself as I imagined Condoleeza Rice in it and imagined myself cradling a voodoo doll to stick pins into -- out of sight under the table -- from that very chair! To my left sat an African American woman tourist seated in the chair from which Bill Clinton would have held forth. That looked okay to me -- perhaps not so strange at some future time. She looked perfectly comfortable in her assumed role of head of state; and didn't need a doll to prick. We all listened together from our seats of power as the guide described the room and its functions.

There's is so much to tell about this brief two-day trip, but let it suffice to say that in that busy presidential library, at least 50% of those silently reading words in the exhibits and listening intently to the interactive displays were people of color. Being surrounded throughout the city of Little Rock were the signs of just how deeply those young Clintons effected the times of their reign in the governor's mansion.

I came back shorn of all resistance to the possibility of Hillary running for the presidency, and of a Bill Clinton as First Husband. I'll work out the details with myself as we approach 2008, but I think you can enter my name in the supporter column. All of the hope I'd felt when Clinton and Gore stood on the steps of the governor's mansion in Little Rock when they won the presidency and vice-presidency returned in a rush when I saw blow-ups photos of that event. I recalled the feelings of exultation that flooded the country, and of how revived were our feelings that the torch had been passed to another generation; that of the Vietnam tragedy, and of all of the lessons learned by so many.

I realized how much I missed them and the hope they brought to us all.

I brought back a little card from the library store that says, "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." The statement is from his inaugural address.

The library was a reminder of how impoverished we've become as a nation -- in terms of articulate and memorable presidential utterances.

How have we come to this?

Came home late last night and woke to the rantings of the Sunday morning pundits. Among them was a replay of Senator Barack Obama's interview in which he admitted to having presidential aspirations for the 2008 elections. Wondered as I listened if this isn't a brilliant stroke of Democratic strategizing (from the Progressive wing), to move Hillary to the Left? Obama is young and smart with a strong sense of balance in his political career. He expresses a rare humility. He is truly an amazing leader who someday (2012?) will surely be in serious contention for the top of the ticket. After much thought, I think that I'm about as ready as he probably is to see a woman head the ticket in 2008, and to allow the sharp Clinton team to re-enter the presidency in order to unify the party and the country -- while he prepares himself with more experience to continue the legacy of democracy as it aspires to be. I'm not sure I want to see anyone I care about to be placed in the position of having to right what is now so terribly wrong with our nation and the world at this point. Obama is surely aware of the advantages of having the Clinton's precede him in office, and another six year term in the Senate would provide the experience he'll need to succeed in office.

Yes, I firmly believe that someone is using the spectre of introducing a legitimate competitor for the nomination from the Left to draw Hillary Clinton away from the Right of Center positions she's being lured to embrace in the quest for the presidency. If you'll recall, it was Bill's move to the Right (called Centrist) that insured his second term to the dismay of the Republicans and to those of us who formed his base. It was this that so disappointed us. The debate will be enriched by Obama's being out there as a threat to Hillary's ascendancy to the top. It almost worked for the Republicans as they at one time seriously considered the candidacy of Colin Powell. That would have come from the Left Wing of the Republican Party -- and they were defeated. Watching this unfold over the next two years will be fascinating, right? But at that time the nation toyed with the notion of a man of color as world leader -- and accepted the possibility. We'll be ready for consideration of Senator Obama, I believe, with fewer reservations.

I believe that it will take the strengths of a Hillary Clinton and the boldness and audacity of a First Husband working in concert with her to wrest us from the mountain of international and domestic problems we've suffered over the past few years. Through their combined efforts (we had them both during his terms of office), we may begin to regain the international esteem that has been lost, and just possibly, the self-respect we've begun to question at home.

More tomorrow.

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