Strawberry Fields Forever - Nothing is real

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is hope audacious?

I've had several thoughts percolating around my head as I've watched the Democratic primary process unfold.

I suppose for most of the time, I had leaned towards supporting Senator Obama, but I had my doubts. Specifically, I wasn't clear on if he could be an effective President or even run an effective campaign. Lately, my doubts are growing dimmer and dimmer.

This lessening of doubt is caused by more than just being caught up in Obama-mania. Clearly the man has an element of a cultural phenomenon, and it really wouldn't surprise me if that very fact is reason why there is some resistance to his candidacy. Indeed, I have friends, who I imagine would gladly support Obama if it weren't for this near messianic image the media and many of Obama's supporters hold for Obama. In a way, I understand this reasoning. This support is ephemeral, promises nothing concrete, and ultimately not enough to really lessen either of my doubts.

On policy points, he also doesn't completely win me over. Indeed, I think I prefer Clinton's general approach to health care reform over Obama's more cautious approach. I think Obama's is smarter for a general election since it isn't mandates based for adults, but that difference will have an impact in actual policy. I do appreciate that he was against the Iraq invasion from the start, and I do think it speaks to his judgment greatly, but even that isn't enough since I don't really count Clinton's vote against her given the circumstances.

The guy is probably the best speaker we've had as serious challenger for the President since JFK, but even then - that's not enough. Though I have to admit, it is an awe-inspiring experience to watch him on the stump. Given his background, given his rhetoric, given his standards, he almost feels like an Aaron Sorkin protagonist come to life - although I think even Aaron Sorkin would find such a perfect combination to be a bit contrived. Again, I need a President to do more than simply speak well. Reagan could speak well too (though not AS good).

I think what it comes down to, is that he may be The Real Deal. For a long time, I've been waiting for someone to figure out how to break through the barriers keeping back progress in the U.S. since the civil rights era ended in the mid 1960s.

President Carter tried, and while I think he's an amazing human being, ultimately was ineffective as a commander in chief.

President Clinton was able to hold back the tide a bit, and given the environment in the 1990s, that was no easy feat. He helped though, and really, a turn back to those years wouldn't be the worst possible thing.

The problem is though that both were ultimately stymied and defeated from making real progress by the conventions of our political realities.

Carter didn't understand the nature of power in Washington and the realities of how hard it is to rally a nation to your side to do the difficult things necessary to enact real progress.

Clinton didn't really try very hard for big change after being so horrifically defeated by the Health Care reform attempt and then the Republicans ascending into power in Congress in 1994.

Despite my background in Political Science, which tries to to tell me that nothing ever changes, I don't believe that must be true. Change can and does happen throughout history, but it usually requires ignoring or rewriting the rules.

Before 2000, I watched a good friend attempt to put together a long-shot attempt to encourage a little-known Senator for Minnesota to run for President who actually knew something about defeating the system's long odds - Paul Wellstone.

He was a short, pugnacious, incredibly earnest Senator elected twice despite some incredible odds. When his opponents blanketed him with millions of dollars of negative ads accusing him of being "embarrassingly liberal", Senator Wellstone adopted that very phrase as a campaign slogan. He combated the entrenched interests attempting to defeat him with a grass-roots organization that worked door to door to defeat the odds. He changed the rules - and he won. He fought for the issues that almost no one else had the courage to do and though he was only one voice in the Senate, it was a beacon of hope.

Ultimately, he didn't run for President in 2000, and horribly, he died shortly before election night in 2002 in a plane accident.

However, the movement started that tried to get him to run, the movement that desired a candidate, a message, a power that was truly of the people, didn't die. In 2003, after courageously standing against the Bush administration's march to war when everyone else in the Democratic party was terrified to speak up, Howard Dean quickly found the people flocking to him. His courage was soon met with the then nascent net-roots, and suddenly he didn't need to worry about corporate donations - he had the people to donate. He had the people to be his army, to carry his message.

Unfortunately, either the candidate wasn't the correct one or the time wasn't quite right - for whatever actual reason (and no, it wasn't "the scream"), he didn't make it in 2004. (though on a side note, I really do appreciate the work he has done as the DNC chair - indeed, I'm REALLY glad he's there now)

However, now 4 years later we see the newest, and purest manifestation of this force in Barack Obama. Unlike Howard Dean though, there seems to be a real method here. While his detractors may minimize Obama's experience - it is exactly his experience that is now in my view his greatest factor erasing my doubt. His experience is that of a community organizer. In this new political reality being formed, that is EXACTLY the experience, and frame of mind needed. It is also exactly a perfect marriage with this new force in politics that has been forming.

His campaign is radically decentralized. His support is broad and fervent and built from the ground and then up. Everyone involved is personally invested. His donors are small, and insanely numerous. That makes him far more robust going into a general election.

Republicans since the 1970s have been perfecting a cynical variation of grass-roots supporting wherein a few people are able to generate support for a narrow set of issues by tapping into mailing lists, and more recent talk radio and other outlets and think tanks that they have developed. The liberals have had no such apparatus realistically.

Maybe we don't even need it now.

The community organizing background showed Obama how to enact change by flooding the avenues of power with the sheer force of numbers of energy. This is our antidote. It is also why he could be far more effective at both winning the election and effecting the change we so badly need.

Clinton was defeated with this machine in 1994 during the Health Care debate, and Kerry was slaughtered by it in 2004. However, now we may have an army ready to respond door to door, person to person. That's even more powerful than "Harry and Louise" to hear it from an actual neighbor. The entrenched powers are strong, but I don't believe they can hold up against a grass-roots organization of concerned, impassioned citizens numbering in the tens of millions.

It's important to realize, we already see evidence of this in his very campaign. The turnout he has been getting is nothing short of shocking. The crowded arenas, the volunteers, the increasing coalitions he is winning with, the independent and Republican support, the youth vote, the disaffected voters being pulled into the process, the over 400,000 donors - it's all concrete evidence that Barack Obama may really be The Real Deal finally. Obama has the best shot at harnessing this to truly effect the change we need because he understands it best from his experience.

Is this still a gamble? Of course it is... but I don't think it's a bad one at all.

I still like Senator Clinton, and I still believe she can be a good President, but I'm really starting to think that a President Obama may be the true game-changing agent of true progress that I have hoped for as long as I have cared about what happens to my nation.

It has hurt like crazy to see what damage has been inflicted upon this nation by the current administration, and turning back the worst of the damage would be good - but moving past the rules of the game that allowed for it, to push beyond the fear and division - that would be the start of justice.

I still think Clinton has the edge in this race, and I will support her gladly, but I really am hoping for Obama to win it. It's finally time to dare to hope again.

Oh yeah, to answer the blog title - no, I don't think it is particularly audacious - it's logical.


  • Hey Jim

    I have been a Obama supporter for a long time. I didn't even see his big 04 speech nor had seen his awe inspiring stump skills. I just read his book....


    By Blogger marshlady, at 12:48 PM  

  • "For a long time, I've been waiting for someone to figure out how to break through the barriers keeping back progress in the U.S. since the civil rights era ended in the mid 1960s."

    What progress are you referring to?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:44 AM  

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