Writing and singing in 1963, Bob Dylan gave us an anthem for the 1960s in “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ”: Vietnam, the counter culture, civil rights tragedies and triumphs and assassinations.
Dylan, who remains with us as a crusty, gravelly sage, may himself be astonished by how change dances through the street these days, multitasking at will. Last week, change was a daily dancer, the kind we’ve hardly ever seen before. In a week marked in red by the prior week’s murder of nine parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, change charged into our lives — especially here, but everywhere else, too — with an almost brusque confidence.
It was an especially good and transformative week for President Barack Obama, who suddenly had a legacy in hand as, first, Congress handed him a hard-fought victory on his trade deal, then the Supreme Court (now and forever SCOTUS in this acronym-favoring and acrimonious society) upheld the president’s health-care program by a convincing 6-3 vote. On the following historic day, the court ruled 5-4 that same-sex couples were allowed to marry nationwide, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy providing the key vote and an eloquent, moving rationale.
Suddenly — President Obama called the gay-marriage decision a thunderbolt — it seemed we had witnessed something transformative. A cultural earthquake had shaken the body politic, resulting in tremors of jubilation and, for shocked opponents, tremors of fear.
Republicans were said to have a hard time of it, which did not prevent every single so-far-announced candidate, from Bush to what’s-his-or-her-name, from announcing the old bromide: we will fight for repeal of Obamacare. It’s as if they were wearing their old hand-me-downs, still lamely saying what they were against and failing to articulate what they were for.
This was a remarkable difference from the GOP response to the shootings by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in South Carolina. Many Southern GOP officials, governors and presidential candidates called for getting rid of the Confederate flags on public display, in one way or another.
The tragedy also turned out to be a triumph for the president. It was as if the old Obama, the rhetorically gifted and inspiring young candidate of 2008, had reappeared in a stirring eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. With an act of amazing grace, he led four thousand parishioners in the singing of “Amazing Grace.”
It seemed to many that these were watershed days, when a rainbow flag of love seemed to replace a flag that inspired hate, when progressives moved from being seen as knee-jerk, PC liberals to the grand masters of inclusion and tolerance, injected by a fresh spirit. Their friends on the other side of the aisle seemed suddenly old, entranced by the past.
But, before the next thing happens, let’s listen again to Mr. Dylan’s words: “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’.”