You know, that’s good enough for me. For now, at least. I want someone who will end the war and provide healthcare. I want someone who will call the regressive nightmare of the last decades what it is. I want someone who will not stand by watching while he gets swiftboated by the right, taking our dreams and aspirations down the toilet along with the incompetence of his campaign. Right now, I think Obama is all those things and quite possibly a lot more. I don’t think it’s a matter of just settling for the least worst alternative to embrace what he’s offering.
And I won’t hold Obama’s eloquence against him. To listen to him is to truly realize, in a comparative sense, the unbelievable sheer political poverty of the regressive era – to be reminded of how low we’ve sunk, not only in actions and rhetoric, but in ideas and aspirations too.
It took me some time before I came to agree with the notion that Obama is a charismatic figure. I saw several of his speeches which I thought were okay, but not that impressive. Since Iowa, though, I’ve watched him closely and I have to say that he is indeed inspirational. And that counts. I had lunch this week with a friend and colleague who told me that fifty years later he still feeds off the exhilaration that John Kennedy implanted in him as a ten year-old, one day back in 1960. We should always approach charismatic politicians with a boatload of caution. That way be dragons. But not so much caution that we become permanently cynical, and not so much that we can no longer recognize a good and powerful thing what it presents itself to us, as it sometimes will.
Look, I know that we won’t be getting Eugene Debs for president in 2009. That’s a shame, and it’s a rightful critique of the poverty of American politics (not to mention the politics of American poverty) that that won’t happen anytime soon. (Or will it? The conditions for a serious break to the left in this country have probably never been better at any time since 1932.)
And let’s be honest, there’s also still an awful lot that can go wrong. Clinton could rally in Texas and Ohio and pull this out, especially by engineering some skanky superdelegate coup. Or she could do a lot of damage, seeking to wreck that which she can’t win, so she can run again in four years. McCain could successfully swiftboat Obama. Perhaps there is a skeleton in the latter’s closet that even the much vaunted Clinton opposition research team hasn’t been able to find (or fabricate). Cheney could arrange an October Surprise national security emergency to tip the election in McCain’s direction and insure that Dick doesn’t have to do jail time. Herr Diebold could steal another election for the fuhrer’s party. Obama could win and turn out to be a nothingburger after all. Deadbeat regressives could block his agenda using the filibuster or endless allegations of faux corruption and bogus sexual peccadilloes. Etc., etc. The list goes on and on.
But let us not grow so cynical that we can’t recognize a hopeful moment, even when it slaps us upside the head.
It wasn’t supposed to go down like this, remember?
Karl Rove was supposed to have built a permanent majority for the Republican Party. Instead he has brought it to ruin.
The Iraq invasion was supposed to be a cakewalk, leaving George W. Bush a literal master of the world, able to smack down Syria, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela. Instead, it killed his presidency and contributed mightily to killing the cancerous conservative movement which he personifies.
Hillary Clinton was supposed to have the nomination sown up, especially because of having Bill as an asset, and because of her ‘correct’ vote on the war and her ultra-safe (non-) position on every imaginable issue. Instead she has turned herself into a soulless robot who is getting clobbered in part because of all those very same factors.
Nobody not completely infected with the sickness of the right was supposed to be able to win the GOP nomination. Instead, its most progressive candidate (which is a far thing from saying progressive) now has it all but sown up.
The Republican right was supposed to be monolithic, disciplined and authoritarian. Instead, it goes into the general election furiously divided, with each faction savaging the others.
Democrats were supposed to be too cowardly and stupid to fight back effectively. Instead, Obama is already showing signs of knowing how to win a political battle, and even to do so while appearing to stay above the fray. I strongly suspect that McCain will find it equally impossible as Hillary has to throw a punch at Obama without having it instead come back around and punch himself in the face.
As shocking as it may seem to those of us who’ve been down so long that we’ve forgotten what up looks like, this is a moment of great portent, a time quite pregnant with hope (and not just the focus-group buzzword kind). Obama could very well be a transformative figure – an FDR to Little Bush’s Herbert Hoover. Americans crave change badly, and – contrary to what Ann Coulter might tell you – there’s really only one direction to go, unless Germany in the 1930s is your cup of tea.
Moreover, that is exactly the direction the public wants. Less war, more healthcare. Less arrogance, more diplomacy. Less destruction, more environmental protection. Less kleptocracy, more economic security. Less sexual obsession, more quality education. Less Katrina-style grand failures, more Apollo-style ambitious successes.
There’s a reason that Dick Cheney isn’t on the ballot this year, folks, and it ain’t simply because he’s got all the charisma of a sawed-off tree stump. Even Republican voters could figure this one out when they dumped the pretty-boy version of Cheney – Mitt "Say Anything" Romney – over the side of their party yacht. The rheumatic hound doesn’t want to get up anymore. Ol’ Regressive is showing his age. That dog don’t hunt and they know it. (Though I wish they didn’t. Romney getting ground under Obama’s tracks would have made Goldwater’s 1964 routing look like Sherman’s March to the Sea by comparison.)