Barack Obama: The 21st Century Jacksonian

Andrew Jackson was the first president elected through universal white male suffrage. This seems hopelessly limiting today, but eliminating the property owning requirement opened the vote to the hardscrabble, not necessarily educated, self-made folks of the old old west of Tennessee and Kentucky and the like. There were folks who mostly immigrated from different parts of Europe and had austere upbringings compared to the founders. At the end of their lives the founding fathers viewed these new voters with Pandora-like horror; the great republic that was to have been run by disinterested gentleman would now be directed by the passions and heat of the unwashed masses.

Jackson was a bizarre and contradictory President, but he is on the twenty dollar bill because he encapsulates this larger democratic change.

Obama is not bringing voting power to any group that lacks it. Rather he is an ambassador from America’s polygot future, where multi-racial or multi-cultural upbringings are the the norm; where it is easy and obvious for someone to be both definitively Polish, Bengali, Jewish, or Peruvian and genuine USA All-American. The story of his candidacy — beyond the fact that his positions and reasoning are deep and impressive if you bother to do your homework — is the ability of increasing numbers of the mini-tribes that America has coalesced into to see their otherness in his otherness and accept both. This explains both the ability to draw 75,000 person crowds and the uneasy lack of definition many, mostly older, people feel about the Obamathon.

In that spirit the fourth night of the convention was a 21st century update to the “hard cider and log cabin” rallies of the Jacksonian Era. These were community affairs featuring ample drinking, dancing, speechifying and music making. Similarly, just like the huge Obama rally in my hometown last spring, Mile High Stadium was “the place to be” last night, especially when viewed on C-Span without the agonizing interference of the cable news bloviating filter feeders. Both the live and piped music was grand. There was dancing, merriment and yes drinking aplenty. The speeches by the “typical” Americans, a Jacksonian touchstone, were even better than usual because they were delivered with affect in front of a group of peers rather than delegates. Seeing Pelosi and other luminaries as just part of the gigantic crowd was in the best spirit of Jacksonian equality. Gore added wonderful praise to Obama’s younger voters, treating them as a force rather an oddity. Obama’s speech was magnificent. It had enough detail and fortitude to defy the foolishly low expectations that the Conservatrons had set for him, and enough of his trademark Persuasive relevancy and rhetoric to ignite the crowd.

The moment produced a glow with fireworks raining confetti. Even the network anchor types seemed to get it.

Bush Patsy McCain gets to step on this moment with his peculiar choice of Palin for veep, but I suspect that the future of American politics will look like that rally last night. A happening; a Be In with song, spectacle and speech that is more about your presence there –through your computer if not physically — than producing a seven second audio and visual for the old network news that no one watches anymore anyway.

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