Saturday, February 23, 2008

Underage Obamaphilia

I have a pint sized Obamaphile (or should that be Obama-bhakta – bhakta in Sanskrit means devotee - in deference to her Indian roots ?) in the household. These days, he is included in J’s morning prayers which is a honor normally reserved for things and people closest to her heart. She has been following his fortunes in the primaries for a while now and has managed suck me into it as well. Obamaphilia is quite contagious as it turns out. Thanks to my daughter, I keep an eye on CNN for the latest on Obama because J’s need for information on him is insatiable.

The latest tidbit on him can delight her as much as a Fun Dip – her very favorite candy. I figure it’s a much healthier option given her cavities. But I truly outdid myself on the night of the Wisconsin primary when I stayed up long enough to know the results so I could tell J first thing next morning. Seeing that big smile on her face when she woke up to the news of his victory made it all worthwhile.

Then came the debate in Austin. J had her evening’s schedule planned around it. Homework was done in a heartbeat and so was dinner. At 7:30 she was ready with her snack, pillows and blanket to watch the show on my laptop. For the first time in the last four years that we have not have a TV at home, she made me feel guilty it. My decision not to buy a TV after the old one broke during our move, is hurting her experience of following the first Presidential Election campaign of her life.

Obamamania has done what the combined inducements of PBS, Discovery, Cartoon Network (and I will grudingly admit Netflix) failed to do. I asked her a few days ago if the timing of the debate coincided with weekend her play date which one she would pick. “The debate of course” she replied. “Why ?” I asked incredulously. “Because it is so interesting. Play dates are all the same” she explained like it should have been self-evident to me.

And it is not only debates she likes. She has had me dig up old Obama speeches from YouTube. The man just has to talk and J is all mesmerized. She sits transfixed and watches him like she were in a hypnotic trance. So when I read op-eds about how the whole Obama movement is like a cult (Amway meets Deepak Chopra I guess) and how his rock star like charisma is comparable to the fan following enjoyed by Hannah Montana, Britney Spears and the like, I see some merit in that argument.

Like many kids her age, J used to love Hannah Montana but post-Obama she has decided “I like the songs, but it's boring when she talks. I love the way Obama talks” As improbable as it seems, in a match up between Hannah Montana and Barack Obama, the later wins hands down even with a six year old. Talk about multi-generational appeal – it does not get any better than this.

This man could make a full-blown case of Beatlemania look like a mild rash. I am really curious to know if the Senator has an ardent fan base comprised of first graders or if J is this profoundly crazy kid who got drawn into a tidal wave that was not really meant to touch her generation. I hear of other Barack supporters in her class. Apparently there is a certain amount of political awareness even among 6-7 year olds.

The neighborhood demographics being what they are, it is no surprise that McCain and Huckabee lack even name recognition among the kids. There are Hillary or Barack supporters only in Mrs. L’s classroom.. The rest don’t know and don’t care – I could easily sympathize with that sentiment. But for J, that would have described me as well. Of the Hilary supporters J commented “They don’t even know why they are supporting her. If they knew about Barack they would not”.

Now that remark brought on a huge anxiety attack – the last thing I want is for J to go off on an Obama prostelyzation spree during recess instead of playing. I am not sure if it will help but I have asked her in no uncertain terms, to stay away from making any public comments about her support for Obama and refrain from expressing any political views whatsoever. It just does not seem right for a six year old to do so -and needless to say, it automatically implicates the parent. If J talks about why she rates Obama higher than Hillary, it is most likely going to be viewed as my world view imposed on hers and even tasteless brainwashing.

I would be hard pressed to explain that it is just the other way around. I am not the Obama-bhakta in this situation and have been enlisted into a fanclub by a very determined six year old. That story would be really hard to sell. I think Obama makes a fine speech and do like the message of hope and change that he brings to the masses. The fact that he has a whole new generation of people galvanized to action in grassroots political activism is wonderful too.

Because of J, I have become much more immersed in what is going on in American politics than I would have been of my own free will. I have been apolitical for as long as I can remember; have never cast a vote in my life and will most likely never do so. Unfortunately for me, I have a child who is chomping at the bit to go listen to Obama in person and regretting that she is not old enough to cast her vote for him. Wild horses could not stop her from volunteering in his campaign if she was the right age and I am not sure how this all came to be. I was most certainly not to blame.

So we watched the debate in Texas. J feel asleep in the middle and woke up disgruntled the next morning because she had missed more than half of it. She admitted she did not understand the discussion and wanted me to explain what they were talking about. She had me play the recording on the NYT site and help her make sense of things that I never imagined I would have to discuss with a six year old.

J gives me a keen appreciation for the immensely powerful thing that the Obama juggernaut is and I hope he puts this amazing groundswell of energy to good use. I am probably too cynical to believe in messiahs or miracle workers; too pessimistic to view the war-cries of “Yes, we can” as anything more than slick electioneering. But young people believe in revolutions and sometimes their faith is borne out. It would be a terrible shame if after so much hope being held out, they are let down and disappointed. Should that happen it will bring in its wake disenchantment that may never wear off.

As for me, I can't wait for this to be over so J can go back to being the kid that loved High School Musical and waited for all week for Friday to come along so she could have a play date with Alexis. Life would return to normal – maybe in Obama-speak that would be “business-as-usual” and not the change that he exhorts everyone to be and participate in. Until then I will have to cope with J chanting “Go Obama” the best I can.

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