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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Barack Obama and Bob Dylan: Citizens of the world

I pity the poor immigrant,

Who wishes he would've stayed home,
Who uses all his power to do evil,
But in the end is always left so alone.

Barack Obama has always had his detractors. It is politics, after all. And considering the playing field for the last 18 months has been the presidency, it’s to be expected when people came after him, they came hard.

But unlike Bush, Clinton, or any of the other recent candidates for the highest office in the land, Barack Obama has been held to a different standard. From the beginning, there have been those who maintained something ‘just isn’t American’ about Barack Obama.

But the latest controversy, which suggests Obama may not be a natural born American citizen (and therefore must be prohibited from assuming the office to which he was elected in November), ironically is the most 'American' controversy of them all: Build them up so we can tear them back down.

'Legitimacy'-- that's precisely what's at the core of this most recent affront on the meteoric ascension of Barack Obama. And the argument goes something like this:

Kenya was still a British colony in 1961
• Obama’s father from Kenya and therefore a British citizen
• British citizenship passed on to his son
• Obama was born with dual citizenship
• Obama is therefore not a naturalized, US citizen

The Obama team maintains the president-elect’s proof of citizenship is right on his birth certificate.

State of birth: Hawai’i.

Furthermore, they contend, Barack’s dual Kenyan citizenship expired when he turned 21. Case closed.

Not so fast. It turns out that the case just may be heading to the Supreme Court. Yet despite the excitement generated over the December 5th announcement that the highest court in the land could take the Obama case, most legal experts expect the Court will take a pass. As a result, what it means to be a “national born citizen of the US” will likely stay ambiguous. The rationale? The Court doesn’t like to step in and override the will of the voters.

It seems the legal experts overlooked a certain case the Supreme Court took in 2000 that very much did override the will of the voters—but that’s another grunt altogether.

The point is this: Fame comes with a price. We raise our idols to the pinnacle of fame, only to rejoice in their demise as they suffer the wounds we inflict upon them. We’ve seen it with Elvis, we’ve seen it with Marilyn, we’ve seen it with Brando. And we’ve seen it with Bob.

Just as with Barack Obama, the ‘legitimacy’ of the Bob Dylan has been called into question ever since a snot-nosed kid by the name of Robert Zimmerman arrived in New York on a cold winter day in February 1961, and began his own lifelong process of reinvention.

Maybe it’s their dubious backgrounds, maybe it’s their enigmatic, shape-shifting personalities, or maybe it’s their meteoric rise from obscurity. But whatever it is, there is definitely something about these men that excites us--and makes us extremely uneasy.

We marvel at the way they shimmer in the spotlight, yet we can’t help but wonder what it is they do when the lights turn off and they retreat to the shadows. They walk among us; yet the world they inhabit is not our own. They may be restless souls, determined and undaunted. But we are the ones left unsure and wary.

And though Dylan and Obama are both cloaked in a shroud of mystery, that cloak is cut from distinctly different cloth, two men tailored for two very different times.

But one thing is for sure. Just as something happened when the man born Robert Allen Zimmerman became ‘Dylan,’ something happened when the man born Barack Hussein Obama became simply ‘Barack’ to millions of Americans. And while Bob Dylan may be in the twilight of his spiritual journey, for Barack Obama the dawn is just now breaking.

In the end, however, the joke is on us. We may have engaged in what is a uniquely American tradition of raising these two men to the highest echelons of fame, but once we put Barack Obama and Bob Dylan on their respective pedestals, they no longer belonged to us. They became citizens of the world…

Whose visions in the final end,

Must shatter like the glass.
I pity the poor immigrant,
When his gladness comes to pass.
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