National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Anthem Never Sounded So Good

Attending the Washington Wizards’ professional basketball game downtown in the nation’s capital Sunday, where the PA announcer always bellows that the team is from “the most powerful city in the world,” I was bemused by how the pre-game singing of the national anthem impacted me.

After last week’s elections, it never sounded so good.

It felt like it often feels to me when I return from a trip overseas and Customs folks at the airport say, “Welcome home!”

I am no longer in a foreign land. It’s my country again. The damper on patriotism from its association with the GOP in power has been lifted. Those people had such an “in your face” insistence that they represented “the American way,” and that detractors were tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy. They tried to make all who stood against them feel like we were the young man on the receiving end of the now-disgraced Sen. George Allen’s “macaca” remark last summer.

 “Welcome to the real America,” Allen sneered to this American-born, U.S. citizen of Indian descent. That comment, and the tone associated with it, was even more mean-spirited than the epithet, “macaca,” because it implied that since the young man didn’t appear white and proud of it, he was somehow automatically less than of an American. By assuming that about the young man, based solely on his appearance, was not a fully-enfranchised U.S. citizen, Allen revealed an inner mental map steeped in unreconstructed bias and discrimination.

So, what a relief. What a relief in particular to see justice served by the ignominious fall of Sen. Allen, brought down not by a mere slip up, but by the revelation of a fundamental flaw at the core of his being, much like a Greek tragedy. By that one “macaca” incident, the public became enlightened to everything that had been hidden, but that it needed to know about the true qualifications for public service of this man.

While it makes one shudder to think that he held such elective power for the last 10 years, four as governor of Virginia and six as a U.S. Senator, it is nothing compared to thinking of him as a future president of the U.S. That was a role for which he was being groomed until last summer.

When you live inside the beltway, so close to the corridors of power where crooks and knaves have been running amok without restraint for a dozen years, the sense of disenfranchisement can be acute, but that’s not to suggest it hasn’t also been like that for many millions all over the land

Still, it may take America awhile for the full impact of last week’s popular revolution to be appreciated. Gossip-oriented journalists are busily chasing around in its aftermath fixating on the jockeying for key posts in party organizations, on the hill and for the 2008 presidential elections. Few are stepping back and reflecting on the big picture, the sea change in American political and cultural life that the election has sprung.

In fact, this may have been the most significant power shift in American political life since the Second World War.

There has been the rise and fall of majority control numerous times in the last 60 years, but perhaps never when it has involved such an across-the-board, across-the-land push back against a set of specific policies and discredited, scandal-ridden leaders.

It’s taken this long, perhaps, for the legacy of McCarthyism and its pro-Nazi roots to finally be repudiated by the American people, overall.

There have been no lack of victories for Democrats, civil rights proponents and other forms of moderation since World War II, but they were always against an American cultural, if not political, backdrop that the right wing seemed to own and behind which it lurked with free reign. Progressive gains were due to extenuating circumstances, outstanding candidates, spectacular scandal or particularly uninspiring Republicans.

Seldom, if ever, have these forces rode into power as they did last week with such a national mandate, with such a sense of a burning, angry national mood, so incensed and fed up at Washington and its sheer excess. When ever before has a significant majority of Americans so consistently held that their sitting Commander in Chief had deliberately lied to them, and not fessed up? That’s how most Americans think about Bush and Iraq.

The new Democratic leadership won’t have to do that much to show its relative sanity once sworn in. Raising the minimum wage, lowering interest rates on student loans, fixing the Medicare prescription drug mess, advancing stem cell research, and so on, are such simple, sane measures. Yet they will look like miracles compared to stubborn obstruction all these faced for so many years from the party none too soon out of power.