A teachable moment

2008 November 5
by Josh Brown

I have to admit to being overwhelmed last night. It was the view of the crowd at Grant Park that particularly got to me. The last time I lingered in that vicinity was in August 1968 as a callow 19 year old protesting at the Democratic National Convention. There couldn’t be more of a contrast—from the viciousness of the police onslaught (which, it’s worth recalling, was “provoked” outside of the Hilton Hotel by the appearance of the symbolic, mule-driven wagon of the Poor People’s Campaign) to, forty years later, a sea of diversity celebrating a victory that, at the very least, repudiated the false promises and betrayals of equality that have twisted the trajectory of our history.

At the risk of reducing the epic to the prosaic, I can’t help also seeing this as an eminently teachable moment, especially regarding the historical process and the all important–and often ignored–role of contingency. It takes nothing away from Obama’s oratorical skills or the brilliance of his organization’s strategy (or, for that matter, the missteps and cynicism of the McCain campaign) to remark on the many ways that the unusual confluence of policies, developments, and events contributed to his election as president. The most obvious contingency was (and, alas, still is), of course, the “sudden” economic crisis, which may have been foreseeable but nonetheless ended up starkly and shockingly juxtaposing eight years of unaccountabilty against everyone’s economic and social viability.

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