The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

The Unseen Place Around the Bend

By Frank Gruber

On Election Day 1992 I was canvassing votes for the Clinton/Gore ticket in my Ocean Park neighborhood. I remember entering the courtyard of an apartment building on Fourth Street near Marine.

A woman passed on her way out; I asked her if she had voted yet. She said she was on her way to do so, and she smiled: "Sixteen years," she said, "eight for Clinton, then eight for Gore."

I thought of that last week when I watched Al Gore speak at Ivesco field, warming up the 84,000 for Barack Obama. That was the same Al Gore who should have been looking back on his eight years as president of the United States.

Bill Clinton's dalliances, Mr. Gore's own woodenness as a candidate, and ultimately butterfly ballots interfered with that.

I'm thinking though, that there was more to it. The country in 1992 was in the midst of three decades or so of a conservative cycle, a realignment that began when for various reasons (most but not all involving race) southern and other culturally conservative whites abandoned the New Deal progressive coalition that had ruled for four decades and joined with "country club" conservatives in the suburbs and other traditional Republican constituencies to take over the country's politics.

From the '70s through 2006, conservatives -- either Republicans alone or Republicans plus conservative southern Democrats -- controlled Congress, even when Republicans were not president. Leaving aside the victory Mr. Gore should have had in 2000, since 1968 Republicans have won all presidential elections, except for those three times that moderate southern governors, aided in onc case by unprecedented scandal and twice by a third-party candidate, were able to win.

We are witnessing, however, realignment and the beginning of a new cycle. The congressional election in 2006 was a watershed. Democrats took control of Congress dramatically, and this year they will expand their majorities. Barack Obama is now favored (slightly) to win the presidency.

The realignment is geographic and cultural first and partisan second. The non-southern suburban vote is becoming more aligned with the urban vote, meaning that it's becoming more Democratic. Unless they arrest this trend, Republicans will become a regional, rural, and religious "minority" party -- the party of white southerners, farm towns and exurbia, and the Bible Belt (writ large).

We've seen this party before in American history: it's the Democratic Party of William Jennings Bryan.

This shift became apparent in 2006. The "solid south" may no longer be Democratic, but "solid New England" is, and the Middle Atlantic states are almost as solid. The Midwestern and Pacific states are increasingly Democratic as well. John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin to be the Republican candidate for Vice President reflects the Republican Party of the future.

The reasons for the realignment are complex. Just as the contradictions in liberalism brought on the chaos of the '60s (Vietnam, riots in the streets and on campuses, and the sense that there was no one in charge), which paved the way for the conservatives, the contradictions of conservatism have brought on the mess we're in now (Iraq, Katrina, economic unfairness and malaise, and the sense that no one who is in charge cares), which is enabling a new and more pragmatic liberalism to succeed.

* * *

When I watched Barack Obama's acceptance speech last week, the words that jumped out at me -- aside from "Enough!" -- were these:

"This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

"Instead, it is that American spirit that American promise that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; That makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend."

That reference to the "unseen" hit me. It referred to the one aspect of "American exceptionalism" that I find incontrovertible, namely that regardless what happens day-to-day, or decade-to-decade, this is a nation based on ideas, and those ideas are good ones, such as, in Lincoln's words, "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Moved as I was by Sen. Obama's reference to the "unseen," perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to learn from an article on the Slate website that tracked down references in the Obama speech, that Sen. Obama borrowed the seen/unseen wording from the Bible. It's from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, verse 4:18: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

My education was weak when it came to the Bible, both the Hebrew and Christian parts, and I had to look up the verse. It seems that Paul was advising the Corinthians about what it meant to be a Christian, and reminding them that regardless of their travails and troubles, they had something better to look forward to.

That also seems to be Sen. Obama's message to us in these troubled times -- he directed us towards "that better place around the bend." For Obama, that place is not celestial or spiritual. Instead, it will be an America that is more fair, and one in which we take better care of each other and our world.

I hope we're on our way.

* * *

If you're tired after two weeks of my writing about national politics, it's not only because there's been so much of it lately, but also because there has been so little Santa Monica news, what with the City Council taking August off.

But things are picking up. Hedges and fences are coming back. Wednesday night the Planning Commission will consider amendments to the zoning code that will make the interim ordinance on hedges and fences first adopted in 2005 permanent. The City Council will consider the matter later in the month.

Expect some elevated rhetoric, because historically vocal pro-hedge residents will likely be met by neighbors who don't like those hedges that encroach on their property. Although amendments to the interim standards in August 2007 dealt with these issues, there are suspicions on both sides.

Summer's over.

Meeting notice:

Wednesday evening at the Santa Monica Public Library, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., Metro will hold a meeting to discuss alternatives for expanding transit on the Westside, including the so-called Subway to the Sea. More information is available at the Metro website

If readers want to write the editor about this column, send your emails to The Lookout at . If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email
The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
The Lookout.
Lookout Logo footer image
Copyright 1999-2008 All Rights Reserved.
Footer Email icon