Thursday, October 30, 2008

A More Perfect Union

I have been and remain very skeptical of Barack Obama's prospects in next Tuesday's election. The polls, while showing McCain behind also contain enough wiggle room for an unforeseen victory. Up to 8% of voters have remained stubbornly "undecided" and I have my own thoughts about what that actually means. An Obama victory is premised on a huge turnout from the African American community and young voters. These voters are often underrepresented in polling, so Obama's lead may actually be larger than it appears, however many a candidate has been disappointed on an election night because these constituencies did not turn up as expected. I have decided to write an article about what an Obama Presidency would mean. This is not a review of policy, rather a look at the bigger picture.

Our Declaration of Independence contains these words, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...". America has never really lived up to those words. From slavery to the genocide of the native Americans to Jim Crow to denying women the right to vote to the internment of the Japanese during WWII to de facto segregation to trickle down economics to the continued abuse of illegal immigrants to denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, America has used and abused the least among us for the enrichment and benefit of the wealthiest and most powerful among us. We have allowed fear and ignorance of the unknown to deprive us of the thing that makes us special. The diversity of this country is what had made America great, yet we have found many ways to try and protect our perceived homogony from every "attack" from every wave of immigrants who have found their ways to these shores either willingly or unwillingly. As we enter the final days of this most important election, the Democratic candidate has been subject to every type of label to inspire fear that can be mustered. He is a Socialist, Marxist, communist, Arab, Manchurian Candidate, terrorist, friend to terrorist, enemy of Israel, Anti Christ, foreigner, baby killer, anti-American, racist. These are labels that attempt to inspire fear and hatred. They are attempts to show that Obama is not one of us, he's one of the "them". One of "them", who doesn't deserve to be treated as an equal. One of "them" who doesn't deserve our respect. And one of "them" who certainly doesn't deserve to President of the United States.

If Barack Obama were actually to become the next President of the United States would the country be transformed overnight? Of course not. We face an economic crisis of untold proportion and there is nothing that will make that go away, least of all the election of a new President. The rich will still be rich, the poor will still be poor, the homeless will still be homeless, hundreds of thousands of our troops will still be deployed in the Middle East and our economy is still going to be in very poor shape. The new President is going to be left with multiple issues to deal with from the current administration. An Obama presidency would not mean that our problems would disappear, in fact, the next President is going to face some monumental challenges that no change in policy is going to be able to overcome in a few months. The country would head in a different direction under an Obama administration, but the issues are and would continue to be very challenging for the country.

However, an Obama presidency would mean more than just a change in the policies of the country. The election of an African-American would signal something much larger than that. Our immediate domestic situation may not change greatly, but our reputation and standing around the world would be enormously affected. America has always held itself up as an example of what is possible. America was able to exert its influence around the world not only because it is a military super power, but because it was a symbol of morality. We held an image (of ourselves at least), of having some moral high ground from which to preach to the rest of the world. That image has been tainted by the current administration. From torture to warrantless wiretapping, this administration has ceded that position. Our current administration has toiled under the motto of the ends justifying the means. We are no longer an example of the best of what is possible, we have become common in our wielding of power at home and abroad.

At the end of the day, this election is not for the pleasure or amusement of the rest of the world. In my opinion, there is not a nation on this planet with a majority White population that would elect a Black person as their leader. So while I appreciate that they look at this election with great interest, their condemnation or approval of the outcome is not a primary concern. The primary concern is what would an Obama victory mean here at home. The symbolism of an African-American President is unmistakable. Our nation, (which held itself up for so long as the bastion of freedom and equality, while denying basic rights to portions of its citizens), will have proven to the world (but mainly to itself) that it can take a giant step toward living up the true meaning of our creed that all men are created equal. The division and mistrust between races will of course remain, but nothing that fundamental is ever changed overnight. For our children it will have a much greater meaning. Our children will never know a world in which someone other than a White male has never been the leader of the country. Our children, of every color, will never know a world in which they cannot dream of one day holding the highest land in the office. Our children will look at Barack Obama, not as the Black president, but as THE President.

This really shouldn't be a black or white issue. Our country has strived earnestly for the past 50 years to try and overcome some of the sins of our past. It is an ongoing battle. It is very easy for us to point to some new group of immigrants who doesn't speak our language and demonize them and without vigilance we will give in to our fears. Electing Barack Obama will not solve our problems overnight, but I honestly believe that his administration would provide us with the best chance at a workable solution for our future. I do not support him as a symbolic gesture, I support him because I believe that he is the best person for the job, regardless of race. The symbolism will remain however. It would mean that the highest position in the land is open to all and that we as a nation have taken a small step forward in our development. It would mean that we have taken a giant leap along the road toward building a more perfect union. I will end with these words from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address:

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

2 comments:

SJ said...

Amen.
Thanks for reminding us that Abraham Lincoln's words and those of the nation's founders said so much more than they intended.
We've seen history this year, one way or another my friend. This year has brought so much more than I thought I could ever see in my own lifetime. Tuesday will be a kind of "World Series" final game: The stakes are nothing less than the nation's future, except this time the fans and the crowds are the players, and ultimately the winnners or losers.

Here's wishing for better days ahead, and a mournful acknowledgement of the coming end of George W. Bush's eight year: marathon of incompetence; bleeding of our nation; betrayal of our values; violation of our rule of law; and disrespect for our Constitution.
Thank God for term limits.
I don't think the country could've taken anymore of this vile administration... but they just might've voted for that litle crook and his friend one more time.
-SJ

Michael Hew said...

I'm posting this for a friend. His words follow:

I too, am bracing myself for anything. But...I must also go by my experiences of late - while in Vegas, the election was all I talked about..only once, waiting for the shuttle bus at Grand Canyon did I run into this: "Well, we're from Arizona." "Ok, then - you're probably for Palin-McCain. Why?" "Well my father is a veteran and I have to support veterans." It was as if the great wall of China divided us...this woman and I had just snuggled up in the cold sharing a laugh. Our political differences placed a bigger chill between us then the either the cold or the Canyon itself! This was the exception though. Scores of people I ran into were for Obama. I bought an Obama shirt down there and wore it to Bette Midler etc..what a conversation piece. So many high fives it was wonderful. I wore the shirt up here in Stratford, Canada yesterday at a celebration of 200 plus people and this man from Ohio said he had pre-voted days ago to make sure his vote was cast for Obama. Then this couple in their 80s walked up to me and said, "He just HAS to win!" I said, "Well, listen. How many Republicans you think would line up for 10+ hours to vote for McCain and Palin. I believe a majority of these people are for Obama wanting to make sure their vote gets counted and nothing goes wrong at the last minute!"
I have been for Obama since I heard his speech at the 04 Democratic convention. I have had to fight my friends who thought Obama should have been stronger in the debates with Hillary and then with McCain - who said he should have been more of a fighter. I disagreed then and I think I will be proven right. The reason I have been so passionate about Obama is that he is a different kind of politician. Hillary lost, and McCain will because more then 50% of us are sick of the hate-filled campaigns they ran. Barack knew who he was before he began his campaign, he knows who he is now, and he'll know who is whether he wins or loses Tuesday.