Saturday, November 6, 2010
It Ain't Necessarily So
(Above: Oakland's newest council member, Libby Schaaf)
What will the historians of the future say when they write about the Great Shellacking of 2010?
Conservatives will say it was a voter revolt against big government and big spending.
Liberals will say it was an outbreak of mass hysteria stoked by cynical politicians who knew how to manipulate people's fears and prejudices.
And those in the middle will say, "It was the economy, stupid."
All three will have a kernel of truth. But it's equally true that the Democrats still might have pulled it out, despite everything, if John O'Connor hadn't been diagnosed with Alzheimer's 25 years ago.
By 2005 his condition had deteriorated to the point where his wife Sandra decided she had to give up her job to take care of him.
Her job was Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; and that seat was filled by Sam Alito, who turned out to be the critical fifth vote in Citizens United case, which opened the floodgates of corporate money and decisively tipped the playing field in favor of the Republicans.
As the old proverb puts it, "For want of a nail, the horseshoe was lost; for want of the horseshoe, the rider was lost; for want of the rider, the battle was lost - all for the want of a nail."
One of the biggest mistakes we make about history is to assume everything was inevitable. It wasn't.
What if St. Paul hadn't survived that shipwreck off the Maltese coast? Would Christianity still have become the world's dominant religion?
What if Robert E. Lee's Special Order No. 191, describing his plans and troop dispositions in detail, hadn't accidentally fallen into the hands of Union soldiers before the battle of Antietam? Would the North still have won the Civil War?
History is full of such what-might-have-beens. The moral, which we keep ignoring all the time, is that nothing is predetermined.
Yes, large overarching historical trends are important. But so are the choices that individuals make. Our actions do make a difference.
To paraphrase Shakespeare: The power is not in our stars, it's in ourselves - for better or worse.
And to paraphrase Scoop Nisker: if you don't like history, go out and make some of your own.
Meanwhile, I was glad to see that Libby Schaaf won the race for Oakland City Council from District 4.
She has a resume as long as your arm, including working as a top aide for once-and-future Governor Jerry Brown. But I remember her as that adorable little girl who was Raggedy Ann at Children's Fairyland in 1976.
The Raggedy Andy was her BFF Leslie Zimmerman, who, years later, was the maid of honor at her wedding. (They were seriously tempted to wear their big red yarn wigs at the ceremony, but they finally decided against it.)
Libby has always given Fairyland the credit for launching her political career.
"It taught me how to speak in front of large groups and to be responsible for the commitments I make," she told me. "But most of all, it taught me to be kind."
Congratulations Libby. Here's hoping you and your generation take over and kick us old folks out of power as soon as possible. I know you'll do a better job than we did.
You could hardly do worse.