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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

An Obama/Seeger serendipity

Wow! I don’t often call a PBS show inspiring, but last night I watched the truly inspiring American Masters episode, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, which had aired on my birthday and TiVo had kindly saved for me. I wonder how well this would resonate with today’s young people, most of whom haven’t even heard of Pete Seeger; and even those who have can’t possibly have the experience that comes from the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam-war movement. I suppose it could be like my reactions to the McCarthy-era segments of the show. To me those are merely history, albeit recent history that clearly affected my childhood in various ways.

Anyway, this episode was exceptionally well-written, filled with music as of course one would expect, but also filled with fascinating interviews with Seeger’s children and grandchildren and fellow musicians like Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Gilbert, Mary Travers, and Bob Dylan. There was even a cameo appearance by Bill Clinton. Seeger’s long experience with thinking globally and acting locally in the environmental movement was suitably and movingly stressed. Most significant was the implied relationship between the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq. The seamless mixture of politics and song was just so appropriate to Pete Seeger’s life and work. But I wonder why they didn’t wait for his 90th birthday, which will come next year; that would be a suitable milestone.

Finally, the inspiration that comes from Pete Seeger and from his amazing abilities to connect with audiences, involving and uniting them, resonated in another way with me. Although there are dozens of obvious and not-so-obvious differences between him and Barack Obama, I realized that they evoke similar inspiration in their listeners. That gave me an extra appreciation for Obama, which was probably strengthened by an incident in my precalculus class yesterday afternoon. As we were waiting for one group to complete some complex preparations for presenting their fractal project, I wandered by a gaggle of half a dozen juniors who were talking politics. “Do you support Clinton or Obama?” one of them asked me.

“How do you know I don’t support McCain?” was, of course, my response.

“Because there are no Republicans on the faculty.”

I pointed out that I know of at least two Republicans on the faculty, as well as many who keep quiet about politics, and then explained why I don’t like to talk politics with students except with those whose views are already well-developed and are unlikely to be influenced by me. I really don’t want to be in the position of molding kids’ politics. They all assured me that they weren’t going to be influenced by me, so I countered by asking, “So who do you think I support?”

“Obama,” replied one student, “because Clinton is just too polarizing.”

I had to admit that he was correct and had even nailed my principal reason for supporting Obama. I said that I thought Clinton would be a good president and I would certainly vote for her over McCain, but I don’t think she would be a good nominee since there are so many people who have an irrational hatred of her (not to mention those who won’t vote for a woman, like a certain other member of this class).

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