As Judge Sonia Sotomayor gets grilled in order to become Justice Sotormayor, one's mind turns yet again to how annoyed President Obama's professed wish to be bipartisan makes me. Unlike 1992 when Bill Clinton was first elected and 2000 when Al Gore was not (sort of), Obama did not face a third party candidacy which, in Clinton's case, helped, and in Gore's case (remember Ralph Nader), did not, Barack Obama only had to defeat John McCain, which Obama did handily. Given Obama's supposed handicaps, anti-war (!), no experience, a black man, etc., one could consider his election to be a mandate for change the American people desperately want. Republican free-style capitalism was crumbling before everyone's eyes and bank accounts and Obama was swept into office on a lot more than a wing and a prayer, by a nation full of hope.
Well, what's changed thus far? Justice David Souter resigning was a change, one no one really thought of — he was no one's pick for the first Justice to go in the Obama presidency. And we have the vanquished Republicans giving his replacement, Sotomayor, a hard time. But she is the least of it. Republicans have demonized yet again real reform in health care. And they have become deficit hawks trying to protect the public's money when the subject of a second stimulus comes up, even though it was the so-called moderate Republicans (the women from Maine) who gelded the first stimulus. This even after so many billions were thrown at Wall Street, at least as many as any Republican president would have hurled. Republicans remain obstructionists and given their statistical status as a true minority party, they nonetheless hold sway, all in the name of bi-partisanship
What has changed, though, is how readily our first African-American president has been accepted by the American people, except for the twenty or so percent of dead-enders who make up the base of the GOP, though they might soon spin off into the base of a third party Sarah Palin Party. I've been trying to picture the effect of Michael Jackson's death on the media had John McCain become president. I'm not blaming the wall-to-wall-day-to-day coverage on President Obama, but it is clear his election gave the media permission for the overkill. That is real change, I suppose, but there had been hopes for more than cultural change.
The subject of change came up in the July 4th concert held here in South Bend. John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan performed in our minor league baseball stadium. It rained, albeit a gentle rain, for half the concert. I had been at the opening game of the stadium back in the late '80s, sitting in the owner's box, since my literary agent at the time owned the team. He, unfortunately, had more passion for baseball than books. He thought minor league baseball ownership was great. "There's no anti-trust laws!" he'd gloat. So, I've felt fondly of the stadium, but seeing the three guys I have more or less grown up with perform there was a mixed pleasure. I've been referring to it as the geezer concert.
Dylan, of course, was the strangest of the three. He now looks like an old Jewish guy. He's given up the cowboy hat I last saw him in a decade ago. He was wearing a version of a hip rabbinical look, a round hat that would look right at home in Brooklyn's Hasidic community, as were his three back-up band guys, who had donned matching suits. The sun came out midway in Dylan's set, which seemed to be a sign of something, though not quite a second coming. Given his age, the songs I hadn't heard before were mostly unintelligible. But they were, from what I could catch, about death, which may be his preoccupation these days. He sang two oldies, which I could understand, but hearing them pointed to something striking about Dylan's work. It isn't timeless. Perhaps "Mr. Tambourine Man" would be timeless, because it can be sung by any number of artists. He didn't sing that. But the lyrics of "Just Like a Woman," which he did sing, now sound like a hymn to pedophilia, sung as they were by a man in his sixties and his rendition of "Like a Rolling Stone" did break my heart, but not in the intended way. Its lyrics are now all ironic. How does it feel, it goes, to be on your own....like a complete unknown.... Dylan on July 4th seemed to have made a complete arc, from being one of the most important cultural figures of his time, but his time was the '60s and the '70s, to one of three old white guys playing for the soggy crowd in a South Bend minor league baseball stadium. More change, without a doubt, but not the sort necessarily wished for.