Days like this are always ripe for wondering "What if?" It is natural, of course, in the scheme of things, to imagine that, but for a particular event, the world would be a much different place. That kind of magical thinking excludes all kinds of other exigencies if circumstances had been different. Butterfly effect and all that, you know. Dead baby Hitler might have led to nuclear apocalypse. No one knows. But still, but still, we dream our what-ifs and extrapolate vaguely meaningful things out of them.
The Rude Pundit isn't talking about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 50th anniversary of which is today, pretty much right now, actually. Perhaps a better way to put it is that he's not directly talking about it.
No, what the Rude Pundit has been pondering in the run-up to today is the inauguration of Barack Obama back in 2009. The what-if is more prosaic than what would have been had JFK avoided Dallas or if Lee Harvey Oswald was a worse shot. It's only a bit more useful than that fantasy. See, the Rude Pundit wonders what would have happened if, after the inauguration of President Obama, his opposition had reached out to work with him, hadn't immediately attempted to shiv him, had heeded the vote of the nation, aching for transformation, aching for change.
What if instead of immediately seeking to discredit the new president, his opponents, in both parties, had harnessed the energy that existed in the nation then and forged a path that led definitively away from the destructiveness of the Bush administration?
Nearly every day, on his way to work, the Rude Pundit ends up driving behind a particular truck that has several bumper stickers of the usual nonsense: "Don't trust the liberal media," "NObama," and the like. Only one has made him think anything more than "Numbnuts." It reads, "How's that hope and change working out for you?" What galls him is not the playground mocking. What gets him is the idea that you would point at someone and laugh at them for having hope, especially when you're part of a group that has done everything possible to crush that hope.
The people we invest with nebulous ideas like "hope" are only human. A JFK, a Barack Obama, they never can live up to the concept. But it's so touchingly human that we do want someone to embody hope. And it's tragically human that someone will always be there to gun hope down.
What has happened to Barack Obama, an imperfect vessel for the hopes of a large part of the nation, and his presidency has not been done with an assassin's bullet. But just as those who hated Kennedy with passionate irrationality laid the groundwork for his death, so do the very same type of people murder hope, gleefully, slowly this time, by paper cuts instead of hot metal. Like the driver of the pickup, they want hope to disappear. For hope means the possibility of change. And political and social change wrought from hope is something that ultimately ends up in assuring that those who have power must give some up to those without it.
When he's read remembrances today, when he's heard from those who were around then, the most striking thing for the Rude Pundit is how everyone talks about the end of Camelot, the end of a period when hope was possible, before we descended into the necessary anarchy of the rest of the 1960s, which some dare believe Kennedy would have been able to prevent (he wouldn't have). The Rude Pundit figures one day he'll be an old man telling children what it was like to feel great about the nation electing the first black president and what it felt like for the same nation to let hope dribble away like a fistful of sand. Open your hand after a moment. Some grains remain, but it's so little compared to what you thought you had.
Yes, Obama bears some blame. But, in its way, that's like saying that Kennedy shouldn't have gone to Dallas, shouldn't have had the top down on the car.
The bastards murdered hope. It's what they do. The bastards will do it every time.