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Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

An Obama Endorsement and … “Vote for Jordan for President!”

Posted by Stephen Lewis on February 2, 2008

(Warning: Partisanship Ahead!)

For the last six weeks or so, the pressure of finalizing new commercial projects had kept me from posting to this site. Now that the crunch is past, I’ll try to get back to posting more regularly. For the moment I’ll begin with the US presidential primaries….

As an unabashed leftist, I’ve followed the Republican primaries with detachment and schadenfreude, breathing a sigh of relief that the authoritarian and divisive former mayor of New York, the self-styled hero of “9/11”, has logged a poor showing and left the race and that the proposed candidacy of Mike Huckabee has hinted at the collapse of the axiomatic live-poor-vote-rich behavior of America’s Evangelical Christians.


As to the Democratic primaries, I’m for … Obama! The logic is simple. Two fault lines of inequality continue to divide and poison America: Poverty and income disparity on the one hand, and race and the unattended legacy of the three centuries of slavery on the other. The candidacy of John Edwards attempted to address economic inequality while the candidacy of Barack Obama, at least symbolically, addresses the issue of race. Now that Edwards has stepped aside, for me the choice is clear.

As to the third democratic candidate: Hillary Clinton is half of a duo that helped push the Democratic Party to the right, more distant than ever from its New Deal-era commitments to egalitarianism, security, and opportunity. Hillary attacks Obama for his lack of experience, awkwardly rhyming that Obama offers “inspiration and not perspiration.” What hypocrisy! Hillary’s current campaign hatchet-man and prospective “first-laddie,” ex-president Bill Clinton was no less inexperienced and displayed no less of a reliance on “inspiration” and charisma when he stood for his first campaign. Under the veil of gender politics, Hillary is a mainstream politician, and not just in her initial support for the misadventure in Iraq. Throughout her first-lady-ship as throughout her career, she has dedicated a good portion of her “perspiration” to the good of corporate interests. Both her “inspiration” and her “perspiration” flagged miserably in her loudly-publicized but ineffectual short-lived campaign to provide Americans with health insurance coverage worthy of citizens of an economically developed nation.

This said, I truly hope that Obama indeed proves to have the integrity and wherewithal to confront in words, policy, and deeds the evils of the economic and racial divides that handicap America and compromise its quality of life, potential, and image in the eyes of the rest of the world.

“Vote for Jordan for President!”

To US citizens who work or reside abroad, the American electoral process appears increasingly and appallingly sophomoric and ineffectual at shaping the informed electorate on which a well-functioning democracy rests. Candidates’ positions are pushed in 30-second-length self-serving television advertisements and in so-called “debates” that are really little more than TV-talk-show-like trades of one-line platitudes and limp barbs. Candidates in both parties — Obama included, unfortunately — tout themselves as agents of “change” without clarifying what they want us to change to or how. Most US journalistic coverage focuses more on the “horse-race” spectacle of who’s ahead rather than on analysis of candidate’s programs, approaches, and qualifications. Worse, “horse-race” coverage has also enabled the press to arbitrarily isolate and derail candidates that it feels will not sell papers or boost broadcast ratings.

A depressing scenario? I have my own panacea for election-induced blues. To keep my humor and my objectivity tip-top during US primary and election seasons, I blow the dust off of my scratched copy of Louis Jordan’s ever-timely 1952 hit “Vote for Jordan for President!”

Louis Jordan was a band leader, saxophone virtuoso, rich-voiced crooner, lyricist, and, for a short time, cinema cowboy. He was also the father of rock and roll and a great-grandfather of hip-hop as well. From the 1930s to 1950s Jordan recorded a steady stream of hit songs that kept black feet and white feet tapping and fans of all races memorizing complexly rhyming humorous lines from his “Choo-Choo-Cha-Boogie”, “Caldonia”, “Peckin’ and Pokin'”, Beware”, “Coleslaw” and other hits. At one time in the late-1940s, several of Jordan’s tunes simultaneously competed against one another for the top place on the charts.

In “Vote for Jordan for President!” Louis Jordan satirized the vapidity of campaign rhetoric. After announcing that he is ready to move “… from the phonograph record to the ‘Congressional Record'”, Jordan promises to help listeners “… get straight on all the candidates” and “… make the proper selection in the coming election.” His generous characterization of competing candidates anno-1952: “… if you want a man with an offer, vote for Kefauver … if you want the man of the hour, vote for Eisenhower … if you want no graft, vote for Taft … if you want a hipster who takes no sassin’, vote for Stassin … if you want to hustle with Russel, go ahead … but don’t sob, ’cause Truman don’t want the job.” The alternative? “For an administration that’ll move you, groove you, and keep you fit” and “… to walk on the sunny side of the street with the candidate with the beat … vote for Jordan for President!” Jordan’s electoral promises: “Every American will get his portion — after I get mine” and “… we’ll all serve — time!”

Underlying Jordan’s light-tongued satire was a crueler humor. In 1952, only a half-century ago — even with the emergence of Negro local and congressional office holders in a number of northern cities and states, not least my native New York — it was laughably absurd to even think of a black man as candidate for the highest national office in the US. An Obama candidacy and presidency will render this one-time shameful reality as dead and buried as Louis Jordan’s lyrics, humor, and music are alive and timely. It may also prove to Americans and the world that this country is the inclusive democracy it purports to be.


2 Responses to “An Obama Endorsement and … “Vote for Jordan for President!””

  1. […] Comments (RSS) « An Obama Endorsement and … “Vote for Jordan for President!” […]

  2. Rahul Oka said

    Awesome. Of course Jordan’s candidacy was too candid, even in our shameless age. Love this article

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