Monday, January 21, 2008

Obama Love

When it comes to the top 2 democratic candidates, there is really little difference on a policy level between them. The minor differences that exist are more about how to design and implement a policy, not on the actual policy itself. One of the best examples of this is the rather boring and useless debate about health insurance mandates. Look, both candidates support a system that provides health insurance for those who can't afford it. All things being equal, I'm generally opposed to mandates, but the bottom line is, both candidates will do their best to get a system up and running that helps the roughly 45 million americans get health care. And that's a good thing.

One area where there is a big difference, however, is in the area of rhetoric. A lot of people poo-poo this arguing that it's not terribly important. I kind of see this issue as a nuts in your chocolate sundae kind of deal. Ask someone to name their top 5 presidents since 1900 and, depending on party affiliation, knowledge, and what they value in a president, the list will include the following: FDR, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush I, and Bill Clinton. FDR, Reagan, and Clinton get in more because of their leadership and speech-giving while LBJ, Nixon, and Bush I get on the list for their policymaking. The first three were powerful speech givers and rallied the American people around the causes of their times. The latter three were less gifted at political rallying but were able policymakers (excusing LBJ's Vietnam debacle, Nixon's Watergate debacle, and Bush I's economic debacle).

The point is that "best president's" are generally a matter of taste. And my tastes generally fall with the first group of president's able to rally the public and motivate policymaking based on the strength of their oratorical skills rather than their ability to manuever within the backrooms of Congress (although, let's be honest, every president cuts backroom deals as a matter of course).

This preference helps explain why I liked Bill Clinton the President, even though he failed to act in Rwanda and was late in the coming in both Bosnia and the Middle East. But it also helps explain why I strongly prefer Obama over Hillary Clinton. Obama the President is a man who could help heal some of the wounds of racial division that still fester in America. His oratorical power is such that he makes sophisticated arguments without turning off his audience or putting them to sleep. And the symbolic value (in this moment) of electing a Black President is much, much greater than electing the first woman president. For better or worse, it will take a Black President to convince the black community that America is a nation of equality and fairness.

But more than just symbolism, Obama is a man who can lead black america away from the politics of hurt and toward reconciliation, who can wrestle the mantel of leadership away from polarizing figures like Jesse Jackson, and who can sell a message of inclusion and equality to a black community that has oft been associated with discrimination against Jews and Gays. Yesterday's speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was a beginning:

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others -- all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face -- war and poverty; injustice and inequality.

We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

The more Obama talks like this, the less relevant Hillary's candidacy becomes in my mind.



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