19 September 2014

I’ll admit it. I’m attracted to the candidacy of Barack Obama. I’m attracted to his fundamental message of inclusion, hope, and progressive change. He’s built a campaign on cross-cultural and multi-generation grassroots movements and community building, and I believe Obama personifies what this nation desperately needs after eight years of George W. Bush: a radical change in direction.



This election will be about how WE THE PEOPLE bring change. And, for the first time in American history, we’re seeing the possibility of an election that is about something different than political dynasties and rich white men. We’re seeing the possibility of an election that would reestablish the Horatio Alger-inspired idea that any American can grow up to be president.



On the day Barack Obama is inaugurated, America will think differently of itself, and this is no small thing. Imagine the symbolism of it. Don’t short shrift symbols, for they are very powerful, and very meaningful. To be able to point to a President Barack Obama and tell a child of any color anywhere in America that they, too, through education and hard work, could someday be anything they want to be…that’s a very powerful thing, especially in our melting pot nation.



Michelle Obama said it best: “On the day he’s inaugurated, Barack is going to send a different message to kids like me, thousands of kids like me who were told, ‘No, no, wait. You’re not ready, you’re not good enough.’”



Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of detractors refer to Obama’s message of “hope” and “change” as negative buzzwords, as if supporters of Obama have been suckered into believing his positive jive. If that’s the case, so be it. Call me a sucker. But I don’t see the problem with having the audacity to believe that things could really be different for a change.



I believe that Barack Obama captures the nation’s pent-up idealism, suppressed for so many years by the Bush-Clinton partisan political wars. I believe that he captures America’s desire for fresh and future-focused leadership. I believe that he has the consensus-seeking power to unite a house that has been divided far too long.



Barack Obama has an appeal that is much broader ideologically and racially than perhaps any politician in American history. He is a man who echoes John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, but nevertheless speaks in a voice – a weighty baritone – that is all his own. America is broken, he argues, ruled by lobbyists and hated around the world, and the way to fix America is not by fighting the same tired, decades-old ideological battles, but by creating a national movement for reform that embraces independents and disillusioned Republicans.



He understands that you win elections not by pandering to your base, but by drawing support from independents and the opposite side, by articulating what unifies people rather than by exploiting what divides them. Change comes not just from knowing how to work the levers of power – it takes more than that. It takes creating the popular movements necessary to support and sustain change. No candidate besides Barack Obama spurs that kind of movement, that kind of enthusiasm.



No other candidate exhibits his judgment, integrity, passion for social justice, and willingness to listen and to reach out and work with people of opposite beliefs. No other candidate demonstrates his impatience for change. No other candidate has my vote: Barack Obama for president.



The Experience Factor



If Obama has an Achilles heel, this is it. This is Obama’s first national campaign. He has and will continue to make freshman mistakes. He has and will continue to be painted as “risky”, a “roll of the dice”. And if he becomes the Democratic nominee, John McCain will undoubtedly make the contrast between his legislative experience and that of Obama the focal point of his campaign.



But Obama’s perspective on the topic of experience is insightful: “Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have an awful lot of experience, yet they engineered what I think is one of the biggest foreign policy failures in our recent history. So I would say the most important things are judgment and vision…and passion for the American people and what their hopes and dreams are.”



And let’s look at comparisons between Obama’s experience, and that of Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a one-term senator. That is the extent of her experience. I don’t buy the argument of her being someone’s wife equals solid professional experience. If that’s the case, someone should launch the Laura Bush for President Exploratory Committee.
 


The contention that Obama lacks experience only makes sense if you think a candidate for president has to be a Washington insider to be qualified to run for president. Obama’s resume is formidable: After Obama graduated from Harvard Law School – where he served as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review – he returned to Chicago and began his career as a community organizer and civil rights attorney. He was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, where he served for eight years with a style described as methodical, inclusive, and pragmatic. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.



In all, he’s spent 11 years being directly accountable to voters, four years more than has Clinton.



Is that “enough” experience? Again, remember the four thousand dead American soldiers, the thirty thousand injured, and the unknown tens of thousands of Iraqi dead, each one a direct consequence of the “experience” of Cheney and Rumsfeld. And remember that Clinton, who’s billing herself as the “experience” candidate, voted for this war.



Given a certain necessary level of experience, sound judgment always trumps time on the job, and Obama has consistently demonstrated good judgment. Obama said it best: “At some point people have to stop asserting that because I haven’t been in the league long enough I can’t play. It’s sort of like Magic Johnson or LeBron James, [who] keep scoring 30 [points] and their team gets wins, but people say they can’t lead their teams because they’re too young.”



The Electability Factor



The argument for Clinton’s supposed electability advantage over Obama holds little weight. National polls reveal that roughly HALF of the electorate say they will NEVER vote for her. Only 2 percent of the electorate admits to NOT having an opinion about Clinton, leaving her very little wiggle room to sway undecideds in the general election. Basically, her strategy is 50 percent plus one, and isn’t that just a bit risky?
 


Polls have consistently shown Obama running strong against GOP candidates in a general election. He polls very well among independents, and among a surprising minority of Republicans. He is the Democrats’ strongest candidate for president because of his great crossover appeal that spans parties and regions and religious beliefs.  Unlike Clinton, Obama has also demonstrated a unique ability to rally younger Americans to get involved as never before.



And with John McCain as the apparent Republican nominee, a man with broad popular appeal but also a man who, if elected, would be the oldest president at inauguration in American history, what better choice between the past and the future could Americans be offered than between he and Obama? Whereas with Clinton as the Democratic nominee, the fall contest will be yet another between different versions of the past, and young voters can be expected to largely sit that one out.



McCain also negates Clinton’s self-claimed strength: her supposed “toughness” and foreign policy “wisdom”. McCain also has strong support among independents, Hispanics, and white males. Who does Clinton get? Hard-core Democrats, especially women. Against McCain, she doesn’t get white males. She doesn’t get Hispanics. She would get African-Americans, though there is legitimate concern that many blacks might simply refrain from voting to punish Clinton out of a perception that Obama’s nomination was lost as a result of her and her husband’s negative campaigning.
 


Obama, on the other hand, again presents Americans with a stark choice when contrasted with McCain. Obama gets the overwhelming number of African-American voters. He gets Democrats, male and female. If he chooses Richardson as his VP, he’ll likely split Hispanics with McCain. And, at the very least, he splits the independents with McCain. Best of all, he gets a fraction of Republicans that Clinton will never, ever get.
 


And faced with a choice between that “heathen” McCain, and the deeply religious Obama, many on the religious right will likely sit this election out. But you can be certain they’ll turn out in droves if Clinton is the nominee in order to keep that serial philanderer Bill and his “ultra-liberal” wife “Hitlery” from going anywhere near the Oval Office again.



The Black Factor



I am not naïve. I understand the race still matters in America, though certainly less than even a generation ago.  I know that some Americans still vote along racial lines, just as they vote along gender lines. But just as men are more likely to vote for female candidates now than twenty years ago, and just as Protestants are more likely to vote for Catholics now than forty years ago, Americans have matured on racial matters.



In addition to being the candidate most likely to lure people to the polls who don’t typically vote, particularly the young, I suspect Obama will lure black voters in record numbers if presented with the prospect of electing the first black president, will turn out in record numbers.



And yet Obama is a black man who does not run as a black candidate. He never dwells on racial issues. When he mentions emancipation and civil rights, it is alongside women’s rights, and worker’s rights. He does not need to speak about black-white reconciliation, because he embodies it.
 


Yet the great unanswered question is whether he can lure middle-aged and older whites to the polls. Will whites, when push comes to shove, vote for a black man? Iowans and South Carolinians did – they saw the person and not the color. By becoming colorblind, they wrote themselves into history by putting aside whatever racial fears they had.  While I do not know the answer to the question of whether the entire nation can become colorblind, I believe it’s time America finds out.



The Media Factor



Here seems another advantage Obama has when it comes to electability: he gets good press coverage. He is a media darling, and this is no small perk. He has a reputation, uncharacteristic for a politician, for being respectful with the press, taking time to answer their questions without annoyance or impatience.



And, as does Hillary Clinton, Obama has a narrative, though his is more ready-made for television: a biracial kid with an absentee father whose improbable path carried him from Hawaii to Indonesia to Chicago to Washington; a Harvard law grad who turned down a coveted Supreme Court clerkship to work with the poor on Chicago’s South Side; a United States Senator who still shops for groceries with his beautiful young children, and who only recently got out from underneath his student loans; a family man with a solid marriage to a bright and dynamic, articulate and self-made woman; a campaign staff that looks like a Benetton ad.



We should not underrate the advantage of being a media darling. Media coverage shapes an election. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, the dominant media narrative will be the dynastic element of the election (Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton) and the past and future influence and transgressions of her husband. If Obama is the nominee, the dominant media narrative will be the historic nature of the election. Coverage will revolve around America’s willingness to take a giant leap forward and elect a black president.
 


And when the GOP Swift Boaters go on the attack, Obama’s status with the media will put him in a much better position to fend off those attacks than was John Kerry in 2004. The mainstream press corps will be rooting for the underdog. They’ll want to see history, and headlines, made.



Lastly, we cannot forget the superficial and yet undeniable flattering effect the camera lens can have for a tall, handsome man in his forties, especially when contrasted with its unflattering effect for a short heavily-wrinkled man in his seventies. Image is important, unfortunately.



The International Factor



On the day Barack Obama is inaugurated, the world will think differently of America. The election of Obama, a man with a multicultural name and heritage, as president would, overnight, dramatically improve the image of the U.S. abroad, and send the global message that a post-Bush and post-Clinton American era has finally arrived. With his election, the value of America’s moral currency abroad would begin to be restored.



This is no small thing. It may, in fact, be the most powerful argument for electing Obama. For many reasons, not least his stalwart opposition to the Iraq War since before its beginning, it would be difficult to vilify an Obama-led America than a Bush-led America. Could we say the same about a Clinton- or McCain-led America?



The Hope Factor



There is no question Barack Obama is an icon of hope. He draws enthusiastic crowds across America, in small town gymnasiums and large city arenas, filling every venue to the rafters. He has a unique ability to invoke passion among his supporters, and to inspire people to become involved as never before.



His appeal rests on an attractive optimism, a chance for America to move beyond the poisonous legacy of the 1960s division Vietnam wrought between liberals and conservatives. He sets a respectful tone voters crave after so many ugly, dispiriting campaign seasons. He meets a hunger that exists nationwide to turn the page on the battles of the past.



Obama inspires people to action. And while inspiration alone isn’t enough to the job done, it’s a necessary ingredient to begin the hard work. After sixteen years of Clinton and Bush hyper-partisanship, Obama’s appeal to Americans to have the audacity to hope falls on fertile ground. His unorthodox approach to presidential politics and unwillingness to cross the line into the dark side of politics has touched a fundamental place in the hearts of many who are eager to believe that the political process is not entirely a cynical joke.



Despite ridicule to the contrary, hope does matter. When people join movements to realize raised hopes, our nation has a chance of changing for the better. When they damp their hopes, as Clinton suggests, the status quo is preserved.



Hope and fear, future and past are the determining factors in this election. Not gender, not race. Will grouchy and divided Americans be driven primarily by their fears, or by their hopes? By their nostalgia for some “better” past, or by the courage to face a new future? The possibility of a new president named Barack Hussein Obama hangs on the answer.



---

Todd Huffman is a pediatrician and writer living in Eugene, Oregon. Comments are welcomed at: www.strangeanimals.us