Equal Time (yes, I wrote this, too)

March 31, 2008

Democrats look forward to making history by nominating the first female or first African American to head a major party presidential ticket.  Yet, whoever is nominated must win the general election to make good on oft-repeated promises of change.  Barack Obama has proved himself capable of success in November and is prepared to make good on those promises. 

 

It is easy to poke fun at the euphoric optimism of Senator Obama’s campaign.  With Oprah firing up crowds and Will.i.am leading celebrities in song, his huge rallies could be the bastard love child of a Tony Robbins motivational session and a U2 concert.  His supporters in the grassroots and on Capitol Hill are frequently flummoxed when questioned about his stands on specific policy issues. 

In a primary election such as this one, though, why can’t they be? 

Voters can sometimes make clear distinctions between primary candidates.  In the 1980 Republican contest, George H.W. Bush was pro-choice while Ronald Reagan was adamantly opposed to abortion.  Bush thought Reagan’s fiscal policy wasn’t centered as much around supply-side economics as it was “voodoo economics.”  Such policy differences were readily apparent, but by choosing either Reagan or Bush, Republican voters also had the opportunity to change their party’s course entirely.

No such opportunity is currently available to Democrats.  Neither Senator Clinton nor Obama will lead their party on a path wildly divergent from the others’.  Policy squabbles between the two have been over minor details that few voters have even taken the time to examine.  Will a health care plan cover everyone, or almost everyone?  Will troops be pulled from Iraq in the first six months, or within the first year of taking office?

When voters who might prefer to have more substantive issues upon which to cast their ballot simply don’t, other factors obviously and rightly come under consideration.  When the substantive differences that do exist are nuanced enough to satisfy Democrats of all shades of blue, how else might those voters make a choice?  Barack Obama gives Democratic voters reasons to cast their ballots in his favor that, if not substantive, are significant and more serious than his detractors will admit.

There was a time in American politics where hope and optimism were welcomed, not derided.  A country suffering through the Great Depression was comforted by Franklin Roosevelt.  A nation unsure of where to go after the relative bore of the 1950s became members of Kennedy’s New Frontier.  The button-downed schoolmarm tone of the Carter Administration ended with a Hollywood cowboy’s promise that it was morning in America. 

The voters who’ve come to support Barack Obama because he evokes similar feelings of comfort, exciting change and pride should feel no shame.  The Bush presidency was conceived in part through telling racist voters that his white primary opponent had a black daughter.  His Administration abused trust generated by legitimate fear in 2001 to support a disastrous foreign policy.  When it fell apart, he stayed in power by pretending he’d alter the Constitution to, for the first time, deny rather than bestow a right on the American people.    

The college students and other first time voters supporting Senator Obama should feel proud that after eight such years, their generation is the first to embrace rather than shun a candidate because his ancestry challenges rather than supports business as usual.  They should feel proud that their candidate saw the potential for disaster in Iraq from the start and distances himself from rather than relies on the biases and prejudices of fellow Christians for support.     

African American voters who delivered primaries in states where the Confederate flag is only a slightly less common sight today than it was during the Civil War should likewise feel proud that they added an uplifting new chapter to the complex narrative their people have written with the South. 

The “latte liberals” who round out Obama’s big three and who were battered for their support of the earth-toned Crimsonite in 2000 and the windsurfing Yalie of 2004 are joined in 2008 by a chorus of support from voters in the decidedly un-yuppie bastions of Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa and Idaho.

The original assumption of Democrats, that they would be well served whether Senator Clinton or Obama was their candidate in 2008, is not untrue.  They should be pleased that one doesn’t have to belittle either senator to show support for the other. 

 

 

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