I guess that it is time for a change. This year, for the first time, I’m going to publicly back a presidential candidate. I’ve always voted, and generally had strong opinions about politics; I’ve just learned to keep them to myself. It seems to me that it is a rare thing that one person can actually change another person’s mind about a political issue. And as the country has become more and more divided that has become even more unlikely.
I feel like an old man when I wonder to myself, “How did this combative division happen?” I remember when the parties where not homogeneous bastions of “group-think,” but had a broad spectrum of ideas. We didn’t hear the “liberal” and “conservative” labels so much in those seemingly long ago days, but the parties actually had wings! There were right-wing Democrats and left-wing Republicans. Yes, there was lots of room for difference, and you could generally tell if a person was a Republican or Democrat. But when it came time for the legislature to consider an issue – it was the issue that was considered! Not, “what does my party think about this issue?” but real assessment of “what do I think of this issue.” Currently it is easy to figure out what is going to happen to a piece of legislation. You check which party backs the legislation and then count how many seats that party holds. There is no discussion, no debate, no thinking – just party lines.
I’m not really sure where we took the wrong turn into this red-state-blue-state Dr. Seussian world, but I don’t like it. I don’t know when we decided that you could judge if a man was a patriot based on the presence or absence of a lapel pin. Not even “how patriotic” a man is but a total black and white, or should I say red and blue, assessment of whether or not he IS a patriot. I don’t know when that happened, but I do know that I am offended by that idea.
I happen to live in a world where I can recognize that John McCain is a patriot, not only by his service in the Armed Forces, but also by his service in the Senate. I can also recognize that Barack Obama is a patriot, not only by his service in promoting housing for the poor in Chicago, but also by his service in the Senate. I can recognize that both men are elitists based on the simple fact that they are both members of the exclusive club that we call the U.S. Senate (only 100 members allowed). I can acknowledge that both men are celebrities, I see their faces on magazines and newscasts regularly – most Americans can recognize either on sight. I’m also smart enough to know that any man who seeks to be the President of the most powerful nation on the planet had better be an elite man. And if he wants to be elected, he had better be pretty popular as well.
I’m offended that people can flood my inbox with messages about Obama’s Muslim roots. Yes, he has a name that is Arabic in origin, and if you track it back far enough is probably Aramaic. My own name, James, if tracked back far enough shares the same origins. I’m offended that my inbox can be flooded with pictures of Obama in native African garb that are supposed to convince me that he is some sort of radical Muslim terrorist. I’m offended that his wife offering a “fist bump” greeting is supposed to be a sign of terrorism. For that matter I’m offended that the government has failed to acknowledge that the 9/11 terrorists did not break any flight security rules when they boarded airplanes carrying box cutters – that airport security did not fail to properly enforce the rules in place on that horrific day – and that as a result I cannot carry a fingernail clipper on board an airplane today.
I want to live in a world where my President is smart enough, decent enough, and civil enough to publicly acknowledge all of that. I want a President who can publicly acknowledge, in more than a one-day advertisement, that his opponent is a decent and honorable man. And, to borrow the words of a far wiser man than myself, I want a man who understands the value in judging a man by “the content of his character” not the color of his party. For all of those reasons, and many more, I am throwing my meaningless endorsement behind Barack Obama for President.