The Time Has Come

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

President-elect Obama . . .

I’m daring my own heart to write these words, to let hope’s preview ignite me for an instant. Despite all my reservations (Afghanistan) and all my fears (how will they try to undermine his presidency, or prevent it by theft?), I can’t help but feel history pushing at me and all of us as we vote, or try to vote, on Tuesday.

Yes, the significance of this election rises out of the nation’s past: Barack Obama’s articulate, courageous campaign represents the farthest reach of the civil rights movement, and a beginning of the psychological healing of our national legacy of racism. But even more significantly, this election speaks to the future: It’s about the creation of a new constituency and the careening, dying sputter of an old one.

And the Democrats finally have a candidate who unabashedly addresses this new constituency, rather than one who panders, ineptly, to the Republican core.

The brimming international excitement about Obama — who drew a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin, a crowd of 100,000-plus in Denver (two days after McCain drew 3,000 in that city) — which I feel myself with a ferocity that overwhelms my reservations, is the global whisper that the time has come . . .

The time has come not just to reclaim the world from the disaster of the Bush administration, not just to end the multi-trillion-dollar war in Iraq, not just to stave off further shredding of the Constitution, not just to restrain the reckless greed of the financial community and restore some semblance of a social safety net — beyond all this, the time has come for America to lead the way in building the foundations of a lasting peace based on fairness, cooperation, eco-awareness and global interconnection.

I say this with a wary eye on the unraveling, angry, “us vs. them” constituency that the McCain-Palin ticket continues to stoke, with the seeds of hatred and no-nothingism they have scattered pretty much blowing back in their faces.

“You know the other night in the debate with Senator Obama,” McCain told a crowd in Cedar Falls, Iowa, “I said his eloquence is admirable, but pay attention to his words — we talked about offshore drilling and he said he would quote ‘consider’ offshore drilling. We talked about nuclear power. Well, it has to be safe, environment, blah, blah, blah. And the fact is . . .”

The partisan crowd interrupted McCain with cheers — yeah, it’s us vs. the eggheads and global-warming nags — but beyond his immediate listeners, as his words spread over the Internet to a global audience, McCain morphed into an idiot, answering the fancy-talkin’ young guy from Harvard with “blah, blah, blah,” trying desperately to appeal to the dregs of human thoughtlessness: robo-candidate, reaching for some reptile nub of the white backlash that has sustained the Republican Party for four decades.

McCain and Palin, God love ’em, have set a new low, at least for politics in my lifetime: a new low in lack of seriousness, a new low in smear and hate. They have brought the Bush Doctrine home, with rallies that set “real Americans” against the rest of us and summon up the ghost of Jim Crow. In Clearwater, Fla., Palin tried to link Obama to Bill Ayers and domestic terrorism and wound up fomenting it herself, when someone in the audience shouted, “Kill him!”

And Fighting John McCain, speaking at a VFW hall in Murrells Inlet, S.C., answered a question about sending a message to Iran by parodying the Beach Boys: “Bomb, bomb Iran.” Later he said he was just joking with a bunch of vets, and if you don’t like it “get a life.” To which I say, wow, even George Bush’s “decisiveness” can’t hold a candle to the recklessness of John McCain. The only person I would less like to see in charge of national security is Sarah Palin.

“The size of our challenges has outgrown the smallness of our politics,” Obama said this week as he began the final push of his long campaign, and to these words I hear myself utter a silent, soul-deep “yes.”

The type of politics to which he refers is the us-vs.-them variety suddenly coming up short for the mocking Republican ticket, which still thinks it can ignore us and speak only the language of war and fear. But there is a new, ethnically and globally inclusive constituency that Obama understands he has to listen to and help solidify. Thus in Denver he chanted “yes we can” with the crowd in Spanish — “si se puede” — and helped unify a country that’s sick of being divided.

I urge everyone who is sick of the smallness of the political debate, sick of being shut out by us-vs.-them politics, sick of the narrow, unworkable range of options with which the nation would continue to meet its challenges if McCain manages to pull off a miracle (or something else) and win this election, to join me and vote for change and expanded political horizons.

I repeat these words: President-elect Obama. This is the starting point we can achieve next week.