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Kingston, NY, Friday, Jan. 11, 2008

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Dream Walking
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

GREEN MILE (1999) is one of my favorite movies based on a (serialized) Stephen King novel. It's a story set in the 30's, a telling of unusual events on Louisiana's death row, the final destination of the prisoners who will "ride the lightening" in a cruelly primitive electric chair. Created as a Tom Hanks vehicle, we're introduced to a hulking black prisoner named John Coffey, expertly played by Michael Clarke Duncan, who is both innocent of the charges against him and a miracle of a man, a remarkable, supernatural healer...literally, something of a sin eater.

Prejudice and ignorance brought him to impending execution on the Mile, and as guards come to recognize his "gift" and his guilelessness while having no way to protect him against his sentence, they move to grant him some last wishes. John Coffey has never seen a "flicker" ... a movie.

The look on the face of this mammoth black man, sitting in an empty, darkened hall with shadows from the projected images playing across his face, his clothing bursting at the seams to cover his massive body, is calculated to help us understand his gentleness and naivetй. In rapturous, child-like wonder, he watches Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire sweep across the screen in a dance sequence from 1933's Sitting Pretty. "Why, they's angels," he sighs, quietly, his eyes alight with amazement and awe.

Green Mile is one of those tales King has mastered, a portrait of dark and light, showing us both how far we've come, and how far we haven't. Sociologically, we've made vast improvements since the early 20th century, and yet the human heart still deals with its burdens in flawed and ancient ways, the human mind still comes at truth sideways and backwards -- everything appears straight-forward and explainable on the surface, what we want to believe drives us ahead to meet the circumstances we create with our expectations, and, inevitably, the outcomes fall short in the long run. In the end, we find that life and its maze-like path through emotion and illusion remains mystery from start to finish. What we don't know can, as always, hurt us.

The Mile was salted through with 30's tunes, and much of that music was produced to distract a depressed America from its plight, to give them visions of beauty and prosperity to wish on, even if that was not their reality. One song from the Green Mile score, again, from Sitting Pretty, hasn't left my head in the last few days.

Did you ever see a dream walking?
Well, I did!
Did you ever hear a dream talking?
Well, I did!

Did you ever have a dream thrill you
with "Will you be mine?"
Oh it's so grand
and it's too, too divine...

"Did You Ever See A Dream Walking" by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel
You can listen to a snip, here.

Barack Obama is our newest dream, walking. His recent win in Iowa has set the nation reeling at the possibility that a new day has dawned, the startling proposition that a talented and charismatic black man can walk away with the presidential nomination in an old-white-male dominated system, and influence the political dialogue to create fair, equitable governance. We are literally stunned by our own lack of racial bias. It has been called a historic win, and clearly that is so -- yet, the larger dream of which Obama speaks still seems far away, and almost too good to be true.

Hillary Clinton is a dream walking as well, a woman who appears both savvy and stable, a Goddess presence in a world of patriarchy. And standing beside her is the worlds most popular Democrat, and her politically brilliant partner, Bill. A two-fer, we expect; a dynamic duo of the Blue kind. For awhile...and even yet...there was a sense of inevitability about Clintons political ascendancy. Our first female president, a new day of gender equality -- and perhaps a return to those flush days of the feel-good 90's.

The events of these last weeks have given us a big, heart-expanding, imagination-exploding dose of hope. Hope is the bridge between what can be and what will be -- hopelessness is the dynamite that blows it up. Therefore, I applaud that hope with every fiber of my being, and I will learn the lyrics so I can hum along with what has proven to be an extraordinary turn-out of progressive voters and a call for "change"...but as an astrologer and a political wonk, I can't allow myself to get carried away on its melody. What seems too good to be true most often is.

Have I ever seen a dream, walking? Yes, I have. I saw one in 1960 when I was a kid, a fairy tale of idealism we called Camelot -- and because that dream spoke truth to power and sought change, I saw it gunned down in Dealy Plaza, three years later. On the heels of Nixon's shameful demise, about sixteen years later, I watched some dream-stuff play out with the coming of Jimmy Carter, a man ethical to the bone but much too realistic about our particulars to help us "feel good" about our excesses and dependencies-- so we got rid of him quickly enough and replaced him with a kind of nationalistic narcotic: the dream of "a shining city on a hill" of American exceptionalism.

Ronald Reagan was our "feel good" guy, and yet what he accomplished didn't help the poor or disenfranchised, didn't stop our runaway push to empire, mugged the economy and didn't make many of us feel better -- in fact, he made it worse. Sixteen years after Jimmy Carter slunk away in defeat, wearing his cardigan, I saw the man from Hope [ Arkansas] rise like a star from modest beginnings with a dream of populism and quickly hit the wall of Washington politics and personal demons, leaving the country in spin and sputter. Yes, I've seen some dreams walking, each real enough at the time. I've watched them attempt to buck the tides, learn with varying degrees of success to accommodate them and go out with them, as well.

Well, guess what, dear hearts -- sixteen appears to be the majik number. Sixteen years after Big Bill moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we have another generational shift going on, and this one is less racist, sexist and elitist than ever. The startling wins in these opening shots across the bow of traditionalism have been attributed to the sudden engagement of Independent voters, many of them first time, many of them young, many of them women and people of color. That is something we can not only embrace, but celebrate; many of us have worked long and hard to "wake up" the public to the political reality of the Bush era, bring people out of lethargy, and it has finally come to fruition. Now we're daring to dream for something bigger yet; but even a dream must be informed.

Mrs. Clinton has lost the zeitgeist with the progressive base -- we no longer want business as usual, even if it's leaning toward the progressive and at the top of its game. She represents the best of the old paradigm, and her recent squeak of a win in New Hampshire was delivered, it's reported, by older women and moderates worried about the economy. Mainstream Democrats support Hillary as a "known factor," and respond to her powerful political machine.

Mr. Obama suggests an America ready to be won to reformation, a table already set to welcome willing participants, a "can do" option ready to plug into our "can't do" nation. Obama is a "we" person -- he tells us what "we" can do, what "we" will achieve; he includes us...our hopes, our his vision as president. He's a man dedicated to cooperation, and compromise; "we" comes naturally to him -- and "can do" is something this nation has longed to hear, something for which we've been desperate these last years. He overwhelmingly has the young vote, the hip vote, the hopeful vote.

While the nominating on the Left is reported to be all sewn up by these two Titans, there are other candidates competing in this race that must not be discounted. Coming in second in Iowa and third in New Hampshire, John Edwards has been deemed too angry by the talking heads, contentious in his desire to take on the big systems that run the country, and he has no money, having chosen (unlike the frontrunners) not to take corporate or lobbying funds. He's a populist, and in the last weeks while Obama and Clinton have shifted their rhetoric to play to the polls, Edwards has remained focused, like the Energizer Bunny ... tap, tap, tapping his middle class drum.

Bill Bradley, who ran against Al Gore as a nominee, has famously said that Democrats want a hero; Obama fits that bill all the way to the snappy shoulders of his tailored suits. While Hillary stands ready to "mother" us (her recent display of tears showed us her "soft" side,) Barack has his mojo on. He's sexy, smart, at ease in the public square, has an attractive, young family and says what we want to hear. He speaks for bipartisanship and unity, he swears we can come together to fix the systems that have shaken apart, the national and international policy that has failed the American public...the dreadfully. He makes us "feel good."

Oh dear -- what was that little clench in my gut? Perhaps it was recognition that we've been here before, with a national phenomenon pushing us ahead in a firestorm of emotion. The first sniff of hope has sent us out the gate, stampeding toward the possibilities. As a person who micromanages political information, I find myself celebrating the Democratic turn of events but wary of these candidates records. Clinton is an establishment moderate, and has been precise in her voting, playing to the center, taking no chances and ruffling no feathers. Obama has disappointed me in his coziness with big business and lobbyists; his stonewall of critical legislative votes and his failure to use his voice to stand against Bush's obstructionism. I also take pause at his mentorship by Democrat-turned-Independent (and closet Republican) Joe Lieberman, including the pro-Israel Lobby [IAPAC] which may explain why he voted to give Bush his way with Iran (as did Hillary.)

"Why, they's angels," said John Coffey, awed by the images on the screen. No -- they weren't. They were highly paid performers, produced by skilled giants of illusion, and complicit with a capitalistic psychology that brought dreamers to theatres across the nation to spend their dimes, sit in a darkened room with others just like them, and make themselves feel better for a few hours. Political campaigns have the same production values, the same high-tech design and the same illusionary quality as do movies; they are part pitch, part entertainment and calculated to woo an audience. There's a script, there are high points of drama, lulls of intimacy, incidents of contest and moments of attack. We may be able to witness unguarded moments of candor and character in between the sound bytes, but by and large the nominating process is political theatre, as American as apple pie and stamped USDA Choice on its rump.

There are two genuine non- establishment liberals left in this race, each with a voice being heard -- Dennis Kucinich who will, rightly or wrongly, probably never get the chance to test his considerable popularity, and John Edwards, who is the favorite of the political bloggers on the Left but who has been marginalized by the press; neither has had the money that keeps them in the public eye and takes them to the top. Neither will get mainstream lift because they represent the shake-up of the political status quo, closely guarded and protected by both parties. They are populists who want out of Iraq immediately, they both want corporate accountability, they want the systems repaired to support the middle class, neither backs growth in nuclear technology or aggression, the list goes on -- they have more in common than not, and if neither are viable candidates then their propositions will be tabled for more long, sad years. Putting a new face on old politics will not take us anywhere we need to go; and the coming years are critical for this nation.

I began writing politics for Political Waves in 2003 and one of my first posts was entitled, "Where are the adults?" I'm still waiting for them so show up. And I'm pretty sure that this time, it's us. It HAS to be us. Adults understand that "change" is a long, hard process -- one that grinds slowly in a nation. Even in my brightest fantasy about a John Edwards presidency , I can only envision a determined and idealistic defense lawyer shaking up an obstructing system, a military-industrial and corporate America unwilling to give away a nickels worth of their immense power, winning by small increments and illuminating once and for all what is so cynically, greedily wrong with this nation. No one man or woman can take us where we need to go -- but many a president has caught us up in their "vision," urged us to come along and changed the climate of political expectation over the period of their tenure. That is how progress is made; and it's best to remember that that is exactly what George Bush did, as well.

Dreams are critical to the progressive movement, but they have to have legs in order to survive; they may well speak softly, but as Teddy Roosevelt had it, they'd better be carrying a big stick. The power structures that we have brought forth in the last several decades will fight by any means necessary to survive. We have to look at every piece of information available, push through the smoke and mirrors, factor in the emotions that drive us ... and be all grown up when we go to the polls. So much is at stake now, and if we've matured at all in these last painful years, we must acknowledge that nothing is as it looks, nothing is a sure thing, and everything is up for grabs.

Here's what Sally Chene McDonald says about the 2008 election, a reminder that this isn't kid stuff:

Election Day finds Pluto having retrograded back to Sagittarius, however there are some really ugly aspects on Election Day. Saturn opposes Uranus and Mars squares Neptune so Election 2008 is completely up for grabs [...]; if you thought 2000 was an election to remember so will this be a stunner. The Bush administration came in on a shock wave and will go out on the same wave, but what comes forward? We have a huge potential on Election Day for another shock, such as another Republican to run this country or someone who is not what they seem to be. The ride toward restructuring this country will continue.

In the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, we've heard from 1.5% of the American constituency -- all this talk of who has swept us away still remains to be seen, and many of us are still undecided. The talk of Hillary's "comeback kid" status, with her 2% win in New Hampshire representing a few thousand votes, pales to John McCains return. McCain, an actual mensch (his flirt with Jerry Falwell's people aside) may be a contender -- he's recently mentioned that staying in Iraq for a hundred years would suit him just fine. Mike Huckabee has brought out the Fundamentalist Christians, who had thought they had no candidate -- they can't be underestimated either. The pundits are gleeful that this political season is so much "fun" for them; everything is fluid and nothing can be predicted.

We have choices ahead, but we can't be like John Coffey, transfixed by the angels of illusion -- the position of the presidency is a national trust, emphasis on the "trust." We aren't picking a hero -- we're examining resumes. We have to go to our hearts, listen to our heads and remember our own vision for a restored nation and healed world; then we can decide who fits our needs. The dream that walks and talks has to be kin to our own, or it ain't worth the price of admission.

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