Gene Robinson of the Washington Post noted Friday that with all the discussion pro and con about Barack Obama, virtually none of it is about his race.

I almost wish it were.

If only we were talking about whether a black man had the experience to lead the country, if a black man can be a leader of white people, or if a black man is too beholden to the issues of black people. If we were talking about any such nonsense, maybe it would mean everything else is going all right. Clearly it’s not.

An immigrant kills 13 people in the very center where he and others were trying to become U.S. citizens. An ex-Marine ambushes three Pittsburgh policemen. A wife say she’s leaving her husband, so he kills all the children. Another dresses as Santa Claus and shoots his estranged wife and many of her friends. Another murders his wife’s co-workers in North Carolina.

I leave it to the experts to decide whether our economic meltdown is causing this recent spate of mass killings, but something is wrong with a society where that much mayhem manifests.

The G-20 summit brought a huge turnout of protesters. There have been protests on Wall St. Workers take their supervisors hostage or lock themselves in their factory.

As Stephen Stills once said, “Something’s happening here.”

People are not just worried; they’re scared. And they’re angry. They know that all the lip service to free markets, shared sacrifice and rising tides lifting all boats is a cruel lie. A willingness to work hard, saving and investing, trusting your government and American capitalism to fulfill its promise are fools’ errands.

I went to a Maureen McGovern concert this weekend. I really only knew her name and couldn’t have told you her one hit. (It was “The Morning After” in 1973.) She made it clear her target audience at the beginning of the concert when she said her program would be a retelling of her times. She said it was for all of us born between 1946 and 1962, the infamous Baby Boomers.

She sang songs about our times of crisis — Martin Luther King’s and JFK’s murders, among them. She paid homage to one of her high school classmates who became one of the Kent State four.

She ended with a quote from Dylan Thomas, which I think went, “The wonderful thing about miracles, no matter how small, is that they happen at all.” Then behind her appeared photos of the Mall on January 20.

What will that miracle mean?  Will we follow his lead?  Will we, this time, make a difference? 

What struck me most was one of the very first songs McGovern sang. It was written in 1964. Her performance was wonderful because as most great singers, she didn’t sing the lyrics, she told a story. When she finished, my wife and I turned to each other with the same question: Had she adapted the lyrics to make them more relevant to today’s unease and discontent? Once I got home, I looked it up. They were the same as another Dylan wrote them 45 years ago.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.

–Words and Music by Bob Dylan

Posted in: Message.
Last Modified: April 8, 2009