I have avoided political commentary thus far in this election, primarily because the blogosphere is already clogged with partisan opinion. Furthermore, when discussing politics (or religion, for that matter) one typically finds oneself in one of two uncomfortable positions: preaching to the choir, or banging your head against a brick wall. I find neither particularly appealing. And yet, after watching the last debate I felt inspired to make some comments on Obama & McCain.
First, I just have to get a couple things off my chest. While I am used to Republicans in the Rove-era using scare politics to win elections, I find two of the current neocon tactics too despicable even for my cynical and jaded palate. The portrayal of Obama as a radical, Muslim terrorist is reprehensible and irresponsible. Yes, I am worried some that right-wing, white trash nutjob is going to off Obama a week before the election. And if that happens, McCain/Palin will have to feel party responsible for the anger and hatred they have intentionally stoked. Furthermore, I find it disturbing that people have to defend Obama by saying, "No, he's a Christian." What if he was a Muslim? My mother's Muslim. I was raised reading the Koran and knew far more about Muhammed than about Jesus. I assure you: this does not make me, nor my mother (a diminutive 4'11" saint) a terrorist. Arab = Muslim = terrorist is an equation that must be eradicated from the American consciousness, and McCain/Palin have only reinforced this falsehood.
Second, I absolutely detest it when people use the phrase "pro-abortion" to describe pro-choice. McCain did so several times in the debate, and I found it repugnant. No one, obviously, is pro-abortion. Using that phrase trivializes the issue to an extent; it creates a black & white world, stoking people's anger and moral outrage against women, doctors, and advocates of the right to choose. I actually understand, and perhaps even sympathize, with the pro-life argument: if you truly believe that abortion is murder, than you should campaign to make it illegal. That's a reasonable position to hold. But it's not necessary to portray the opposition as evil.
Many on the left will be hurt and angered by this - perhaps so much so that Obama won't get elected to a second term. If you expect that of him, you haven't been paying attention and your disappointment will be your own fault. But there's no need to worry. Obama has the potential to shape our country, and possibly the world, like no other leader in recent history.
How? Primarily, by serving as a role-model and a symbol. A symbol of diversity, intelligence, and compassion.
A bi-racial child of a black Kenyan and a white woman from middle America, Obama could initiate our desperately needed separation from the Puritan-rich-white-male heritege that has dominated American politics since its inception. Do I hate rich white males, just because? No. But rich white men can't represent America today. Obama's existence embraces so much more of what it means to be Amercian, and for that matter, a human being. I like the fact that his father exposed him to Islam, and that his mother was an agnostic anthropologist. How much more worldly he will be than G.W.! I know from personal experience that having parents from two very different cultures has provided me with a broader understanding and appreciation for the diversity of ways that people live their lives. Rather than promoting a doctrine of American dominance, I believe that Obama will preach acceptance, integration, and appreciation for cultural diversity. He will appeal to our common humanity, rather than heavy-handed American patriotism/jingoism.
It both amuses and pains me to see Republicans try to turn Obama's educational background against him. Perhaps in no other country would education and intelligence be so negatively portrayed as "elitist". Americans, apparently, don't like smart people running their country. But after 8 years of being embarrassed by Dubya's idiocy, how refreshing and inspiring it will be to have someone of intelligence and eloquence in the white house. Consider the effect this could have on young people, especially minorities, yearning for powerful role-models outside the domains of entertainment and athletics. And consider the message that his presidency sends to the rest of the world: the American dream is real! It's not just something we sell on TV! We are a meritocracy!
Finally, I believe Obama will make compassion - true compassion, not Bush's "conservative compassion" - a center-piece of his administration. Does Obama want to redistribute wealth? You bet he does. And it's exactly what our country, and the world, needs right now. An investment in the poor, hungry, uneducated, and down- trodden. A Robin Hood, taking money from rich executives and investing it into public works. A Jesus Christ driving the moneylenders from the temple, helping the sick and diseased. If "wealth distribution" scares you, as McCain hopes it does, recall that the richest 1% of people own ~40% of global assets.
If you don't believe that inspiration and symbolism are potent forces, consider the effect that the neocons have had on our world ethos in a short 8 years. Americans are inspired by greed, hatred, and fear. Republicans have peddled Armageddon to their great advantage. When people think the world could end tomorrow (terrorists could kill them, or the economy might collapse), it doesn't make rational sense to invest in the future. When you live in fear, you spend, burn, and behave selfishly to give you and your family as much as possible without a concern for the rest of the world - or future generations.
If Obama can inspire hope in Americans, and people around the world, that there's a future for our species... that inspiration may have a greater impact on the health and well-being of our planet than any policy decision.