I wondered who I would hear say it first. It turns out that it was Public TV, usually the medium that resists giving in to over-hyping events and news coverage. But there they were: the various talking heads of PBS saying "This election (meaning the 2008 Presidential election) is the most important in history."
I have heard that statement uttered by various sources over the past several election cycles. And while it could be argued that each succeeding Presidential election is more "important" than the previous ones, it could be argued that that has always been the case and therefore, no longer worth mentioning. Each quadrennial election faces new challenges, new villains, new concerns.
Would it be fair to say that the elections of 1996, or 2000, or 2004 (each which were also characterized as being the most important elections in history at the time) were indeed more important (whatever that means) than the election of, say, 1944, when the world was still in outright, total war in Europe and the Pacific? Or more important than the election of 1956 or 1960, with the growing threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union ? How about the election of 1860, when the nation was divided over the issue of slavery, an issue that would soon pit the North against the South.
I'm not saying the 2008 Presidential election is not important. And it may turn out, in hindsight, to have been a very important one indeed, in which the nation will either feel blessed or cursed for having made the choice it made for the Top Job. But that is something we will only know in the future.
Important? Yes? Worthy of our attention and careful consideration? You bet? Most important ever? Only time will tell.
My family and I recently spent a week in Los Angeles on vacation. I had three multi-cultural incidents which struck me as amazing and wonderful at the same time. They were all simple things that it would have been easy to miss. And it's entirely possible I'm reading too much into them. But I still found them fascinating.
The first took place on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills -- the capital of glitz, glamour and the excesses of American culture.
There, parked on the street, was the most gorgeous, yellow, convertible Rolls Royce automobile you will ever see. Luxurious leather seats and some sort of exotic wood trim. It was catching everyone's eye. Many people took pictures of it or had pictures of themselves taken next to it, so they could go back home and joke about the car they keep for use only in LA.
As I was standing there looking at the car (while the female members of my family were shopping in a designer's store in which there was no way we could afford to purchase anything!), a Japanese fellow came up to me with the smallest camera I had ever seen. His universal hand gestures and smiling eyes helped me to understand that he wanted me to take a picture of him next to the Rolls. After some clumsy efforts to snap the photo, I got a picture. He looked at it, indicated he'd like another, so I "posed him," and took another shot. He looked at the image on the screen, was apparently pleased, smiled and walked on.
So there we were. Two people who could never afford a Rolls, two people who could not speak the same language, but two people who both recognized and appreciated its beauty and excellence. The car was neither made here in the nor in his home country, but it didn't keep us from knowing what it was and what a cultural icon it was.
The second incident also took place on Rodeo Drive. It involved women who were from cultures where women are required to cover their heads and cover much of their bodies with fabric. I saw a number of these women shopping in (and occasionally buying) items from some of the fanciest women's clothing shops. Most of the clothing I saw on display in these stores would not qualify as overly modest. In fact, the clothing seemed to scream out "Look at me!" in a way that I thought these women's typical dress might not. I was happy that the women found the brighter, more colorful clothes to their liking, and that they had the wherewithal to purchase them. But I wondered where they would wear the items and what the men in their circle of family and acquaintances would think of the clothes. Perhaps the women were buying the clothes only to wear in closed gatherings of women, I don't know. But I was again struck at the "clash of cultures" where a group of people might have concerns about particular styles of dress and have strict codes about what women will and will not wear or show, but nonetheless be interested in and drawn to the types of expensive, designer wear one finds in the chic shops on Rodeo Drive.
The final incident took place at LAX as we were passing through security to fly home. There was a big, burly security agent, checking everyone's boarding passes and IDs before allowing you to go to the next checkpoint. He was very gregarious and seemed to be able to find something to talk about with just about everyone who came before him. (He mentioned "Cabin Creek" when I handed him my WV driver's license. I replied "Jerry West's hometown," referring to the small community where the former WVU and LA Lakers basketball great had grown up. He smiled, nodded and stamped my boarding pass.)
A young Vietnamese couple was right in front of us. The agent started running down through a list of towns and cities in he had visited. The only one he mentioned with I was familiar was Hue (pronounced Hway). They indicated that they didn't live far from there. He told them he was there from 1968 thru 1970. Of course what was left unsaid was that he was there probably as a part of the military when we were deeply enmeshed in the Vietnam War.
There was no mention of the War, whether these two young people (probably born after the war ended) were children of folks who supported or opposed 's presence there, or whether this military man might have been involved in activities that led to the deaths of any of their family members or communities. In fact, there was no animosity at all. Just friendliness of a person from one generation, talking to members of a younger generation, about a common piece of geography that had played a part in each of their lives. It was fascinating simply because of how normal it all was, despite all that had happened between the two countries all those years ago.
I was glad that these very different people, from very different worlds, and very different experiences, could share such a friendly, easy bit of conversation. And I reflected upon how common it is that citizens of one country can become friends with people of another country, even if their governments are (or have been) mortal enemies. I think of the close relationships between the and , despite the Revolutionary War; the and , despite World War II; and the and , also despite World War II.
The passage of time, the cooling of tempers, and newer generations of people who have no recollection of the hatreds that once existed, help to bring people together when gunfire and peace documents have long faded into history.