Today, Democrats (and independents, and even a few Republicans) will have the opportunity to vote in primaries for their candidate for President. I’ve already endorsed Barack Obama previously, but that was just a quick one-off of me more or less saying “yes, I like him.” I figured I should be more comprehensive.
Firstly, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my personal preferences aside, Hillary Clinton would make at least a good President, and just possibly a very good one. I am sure she would do the job well enough, and getting Bill Clinton in the bargain as an unofficial advisor is no small deal. As a candidate, however, Hillary Clinton is, bluntly, terrible. It doesn’t matter how intelligent and capable and even charming she is; she comes into the presidential election with slightly less than half of the electorate utterly unwilling to vote for her.
Is this fair? Of course not. Hillary Clinton’s demonization by the right wing has never been even remotely fair. But likewise, it wasn’t fair that Al Gore got tarred as a serial liar in 2000 when he wasn’t in fact lying. It wasn’t fair that John Kerry got demonized for his military service. It wasn’t fair that an otherwise clever, personable wonk was given the nigh-unelectable name of “Paul Tsongas.” Politics is many things, but it is not fair.
But even if Hillary Clinton did not carry with her this baggage, Barack Obama would still be the choice. I feel the need to illustrate my point thusly: the overwhelming feeling of all us foreigners towards America right now as regards Obama can most accurately be described as jealousy. Great statesmen are rarities in any nation; we all mostly make do with capable technocrats and charming rascals, and for the most part this is good enough. But every so often a nation gets a truly amazing leader, someone all the other countries look at and wonder “why can’t our leaders be like that” – a Churchill, a de Gaulle, a Trudeau, a Mandela.
Am I saying Barack Obama is one such? Not necessarily. But more than any leader I can remember seeing since Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama exemplifies the promise of greatness. He has shown he is willing to speak plain truths. (A friend of mine watched last Thursday’s debate with me, and his jaw dropped when he heard Obama bluntly name an attack question on illegal immigration the scapegoating that it was. “Does he want to lose the election?” he asked me, not realizing that if anything, Obama’s answer probably won it for him.)
Critics of Obama often lash out at his tendency for rhetoric, but rhetoric is only a crime where specificity is missing, and Obama has nothing if not a powerful understanding of policy. (I won’t pretend to agree with him on health care mandates, but ultimately he and I agree on the necessity of universal health care coverage, and he has displayed in his political career an admirable tendency to use what works. Everything else is dross.)
Moreover, though, what irritates me is the charge that Obama is instilling the electorate with unreasonable expectations, that causing people to believe that simply electing the right man can turn everything around. Do these people not read history? Franklin D. Roosevelt was the one man of his time; so was Mikhail Gorbachev. Give one man enough power and he can change the world for the better or the worse – we know this. So I assume those who level this accusation believe Obama incapable of living up to such expectations.
True, maybe he can’t do it. But – and I say this wholly convinced of the truth of it – unlike any presidential candidate in at least the last twenty years, he’s got a shot. Say that to yourself, again: in dark times (and these are very dark times, don’t think otherwise for a second), there is at least one presidential candidate who can be better, and who more importantly inspires other people to believe they can be better, and if they believe they can be better, they will usually try to be better. I’m sure you can appreciate the ripple effect at work.
There is nothing criminal in trying to appeal to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our natures.” It is, at root, how politics should work.
So, please – vote for Barack Obama. Prove to the rest of the world that America can still do something that is holy-shit stupendous. Believe me, we all want to see you do it, very badly indeed.