Wednesday, November 5, 2008


(Week 13 - Wednesday, Nov. 6)

I have spent the evening in the company of good friends with whom I watched the election returns on the television. At this late hour I am more in the mood to be personal than analytical. Election days are singular in their effect upon me. They are a unique hiatus between one rhythm of life and another. The campaigns are over, and now we go back to work.

I am a quintessential baby-boomer and child of my time. I grew up in what I experienced as the halcyon 50's, and came of age in the turbulent 60's. The thought that kept coming to me tonight is, "what a difference forty years can make". I was born and raised in Chicago, and grew up with familiarity with Grant Park, site of Obama's acceptance speech. Forty years ago it was the location of the massive disorder ("police riot" some called it) that swirled around the '68 Democratic Convention. How different that was compared to the virtual love fest that reigned there tonight.

I did not experience the mayhem in Grant Park in '68 because I was in the midst of another chaotic scene in Vietnam. From there it seemed that "the World" (what we called the states from "the Nam") was coming apart. Over a hundred cities, we were told, were beset by rioting and on fire. Martin Luther King had been murdered in the spring. Bobby Kennedy, who's last public utterance was "And now on to Chicago", met the same fate shortly after. This finished off, it seemed, the innocence of a generation, coming as it did less than five years after the assassination of his brother.

I experienced a particular feeling of sadness upon hearing McCain's most gracious concession speech. I realized that no veteran of Vietnam had served in the office of President, and that McCain was perhaps the last best hope of that happening. It still isn't too late, or course, but I had the feeling that with the public taking a pass on his candidacy, perhaps the torch was being handed off already to a new generation. It seemed that the experience of the souls who had served in the war that marked our generation, but were still keeping it all inside, was somehow being passed over also.

Obama's dignified acceptance address aroused in me feelings of hope. More so did the looks on the faces of his crowd. Much has been said about the shallowness, mendacity and venality of modern political campaigns (not without reason), but I did not see evidence of that in the countenances of this celebratory, but serious, throng. How long will such comportment last? I do not know, but it is reassuring to know that it is there and can be called forth if the moment can be made right.

As I reflect upon the differences between the times now and forty years ago, it strikes me that, culturally and politically speaking, much has changed, except perhaps the one thing that needs most to change. That is, we still cannot have an authentic public dialogue about money. To be sure, there are many partisan ideological arguments about taxes being too high, spending being out of control, having to pay the "debt" so our children won't have to, and the like, but those are not sober soul-searching conversations about what money is, how it is created and controlled, and who it serves.

McCain and Obama both talked in a heartfelt way about the need to come together. Money is one topic that is common to us all. Notwithstanding that it is typically invoked in a divisive manner, my experience is that it is the one subject around which it is most possible to have a unifying transcendent dialogue. I have tried to demonstrate something of that potential through these columns. It is my hope that in the relative political calm between now and inauguration day, the seed of a productive discourse on money can be planted, before the looks on those faces fade again into the disunity of political business as usual.

Richard Kotlarz

The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.