I not going to spend a lot of time digging into Obama’s legislative record right now (although I might in the future) because I just don’t have the time—if I considered myself more of a political person, I certainly would. I can tell you, however, how I came to the decision to vote for him, and then discuss the arena in which I see his capacity for what I call “resolving dualities.”
I wasn’t going to vote for a Republican. No way. I thought the way they’ve behaved over the last twelve years, from the sexual witch-hunt on Clinton to the excluding and vilifying anyone who dared disagree with them after 9/11 was simply ghastly. Unless the Republican candidate was in some way vastly superior, I could not see returning them to power—that would just embolden them, after they basically (in my mind) followed Bush off a cliff. Everything in me says the country is headed in the wrong direction. I’d rather oversteer in the other direction, then make another course correction if necessary.
The Democrats. Frankly, I kind of liked Edwards and Hillary, and saw few enough differences between their policies that I felt comfortable watching the political game play out.
Obama? I had a vested interest, obviously. Assuming I saw no huge difference in policy or capacity, I knew my tendency would be to vote for him. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have overlooked any flaws more than 1% or 2% in exchange for his skin color. But the hind brain is an odd thing, and I can’t be certain. We’re not really driven by logic.
The first time I heard him was at the DNC, when he did the “We’re not Red States or Blue States” routine. Caught my interest instantly—and the interest of America. Because the Red-Blue thing is purely conceptual, with little relevance to the actual question of how we shall live our lives. Yeah, there are those who disagree with that, but I don’t. That was like someone who sees two people arguing over whether it’s Heads or Tails, and points out that it’s actually a Quarter. The energy released during his talk was remarkable, and I got interested.
Read his autobiography, and noticed that he struggled with his ethnicity, until coming to a connection with his spiritual humanity I found remarkably mature for his age (that first memoir DREAMS FROM MY FATHER was written when he was 21. Astoundingly mature, according to Tananarive. Haven’t read that one yet.)
I liked this guy, and thought that he had found his way through a minefield that I’m still negotiating, race-wise. Like two other people: Will Smith, and Oprah. I now see three people on the cultural landscape who have apparently handled the load I struggle with. Or at least, handled that particular aspect of their lives with greater grace than I can manage. I’m REALLY interested now, because three role models gives me the minimum I need to filter out the critical path from the “noise.”
So he had the edge going into the election, because I know how difficult it is to handle that. That meant that if he could play the game as WELL as the white folks in the race, he was actually smarter than them—he had a handicap (that sack of cement I’ve mentioned) that they couldn’t see. Bigger than Hillary’s? No. I have no way to judge. However, he was starting from scratch, where she had a national organization, 100% name recognition, and the most popular living former president stumping for her. Quite a hill to climb.
And this is where I started having fun. Looking at both of their web sites, I didn’t see major policy differences, and there wasn’t enough difference in records of accomplishment to really care, and their surrogates, people who trusted and supported them, had about equal status in my eyes. No real advantage there on either side.
So I could watch the way they ran their campaigns. Frankly, I was pulling for either Hillary or Barack—I love being a part of history. No matter what happened, I was going to get that “big change” that I felt was critical, and there was NO way either of them was going to do worse than Bush.
And I say that the management of a national political campaign says a gigantic amount about management skills, and overall capacity. Not as much if you factor in nepotism—Bush’s daddy’s Rolodex on one hand, Hillary’s riding Bill’s coat-tails on the other. But I was willing to let that go and let ‘em start from even in my mind.
Obama finessed the Black-White thing beautifully, better than I’ve seen a black politician do it. He just didn’t allow it to be a part of the discussion. Note that his wife Michelle doesn’t have that to the same degree. Her “For the first time in my adult life I’m really proud of America” comment was almost certainly a reference to racial frustration and disbelief that the country would actually embrace a black candidate. Obama didn’t wallow in that. The Clintons KNEW that if they could pull him down into that discussion he would lose.
Hillary has talked over and over again about “A woman in the White House”—playing right into that duality thing. I haven’t heard him make the equivalent comment even once, although some of his surrogates have.
When the subject of Latinos came up, commentators (all of them White) talked about the antipathy between whites and blacks. Obama took the position that the “conflict” has been manufactured, distracting both sides from the real issues. From a racial POV, it was like he was saying that Whites can have Thanksgiving dinner in comfort as long as they can keep browns and blacks fighting over table scraps on the floor. He never said that exactly, but man, the half-dozen comments I’ve heard from him on the subject jumped out at me: he wasn’t getting caught in that game, either.
Every demographic: black versus white, men versus women, old versus young, rich versus poor…that the pundits said would be a barrier, he seemed to address with calls to look beyond the differences to the commonalities. And for those who think Islamic extremism is the great challenge for the 21st Century: anyone who believes this (and I sympathize with it, even if I don't consider it the HIGHEST priority problem) and simultaneously is free of the sense that Muslims or their religion are inferior must grasp that Obama's potential to bridge the divide between Christian and Muslim is absolutely unique. I mean, good Lord, it's almost as if he was custom-made for the job.
Note: NONE of this means he can actually deliver. I get that.
However…his fund raising, approaching a million donars, is apparently unprecedented, and therefore the amounts of money he’s been raising are a direct reflection of his approval and impact. And he’s run a campaign that is boggling the minds of experts, and making the feared Clinton machine look bad. You know something? People are going to say: “he didn’t win. They lost.” Yawn. That’s what ALWAYS gets said when someone embarrasses the Champ. It’s almost always the “he must not have trained” “their defence was asleep” and so forth.
The art of winning in combat is to place enough pressure on your opponent to expose their flaws…and there are ALWAYS flaws. It just isn’t easy to force them into the open. Once they’re exposed, then every bad choice and losing gamble they made looks like incompetence. Of course if they won, it would be a “bold gambit.”
I’ve been watching him bob and weave and duck and dodge--and throw hooks, jabs, and crosses. A few body blows. So far, no low blows, but I see a couple of hidden elbows, and he's probably forced some errors. Debating isn’t his strong suit, but he’s gotten better every time—his learning curve is scary steep. His ability to connect with crowds gives him an EQ that blows my mind. “Just his speechwriters”? Oh, please. He’s been talking that way since college. He obviously guides his speechwriters with an iron hand. Read his books. If you could buy that kind of eloquence, EVERY politician would have his audience fainting. It’s a joke.
I’ve watched this guy navigating the obstacles with an adroitness that frankly puts my jaw on the ground. I still don’t know what he can deliver, I really don’t. There are people who are using the “the country is more ready for a black man than a white woman” and I find that dismissive. If the same thing happened ten times, THEN you have the beginning of a statistical group. Otherwise, Obama beat Clinton. If she’d beaten him, I would have been tempted to wonder the opposite, but as long as he did well? I wouldn’t insult the electorate by assuming racism. I might well have credited the vast and powerful Clinton machine, but leaping to sexism or racism when so many millions have embraced both strikes me as self-pity of the worst kind.
I had ZERO interest in voting for Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. Zero. So I know that my racial heart-strings don’t tug all that easily. But this is different. Had he been white, I’d have been fascinated by him. But black, knowing what he’s had to overcome (and seen, all my life, the difficulty in finding whites who grasp the obstacles) does give him extra points in my mind.
So his ability to build and direct a 200-million dollar organization from scratch, and smash an established machine? Yeah, I think this guy has executive ability. More, he has the ability to inspire people to try, to believe. Now, if he’s honest, that’s great. So far, he seems more honest than 90% or more of what I see in the public arena. Smart? Blisteringly so. And flexible. That implies that he will learn faster than hell.
My guess? He’ll be an above-average president. Probably a good one. Greatness? Who the hell knows? Part of that judgment will be determined by whether you are Liberal or Conservative. So I will evaluate the quality of Liberal candidates by the judgement of other liberals, or the judgment of Conservative candidates by the judgment of other Conservatives, or averaging the approval levels overall. Otherwise, well, if you are Conservative, of COURSE you’re likely to dislike a Liberal candidate’s platform, overall, and vice versa. And since I think those differences stem from primary existential perceptual lenses rather than actual value (I know of no studies suggesting vast differences in income, education or intelligence between Conservatives and Liberals. In my mind, this means that it can’t possibly be true that one side is “right” and the other “wrong.”)
In terms of my judgment about his apparent balance, as opposed to Clinton. It is true that many women are married to cheaters. So what? Lots of people are broke, or fat. That’s simply a fact, not something that gives a pass on the issue of balance. MOST people are imbalanced, and it’s not something to aspire to. Period. So she made a compromise. Fine. That matches her values, and doesn’t match mine.
I did a fast web search for male and female relative satisfaction in life. Here’s a page with some data:
And you’ll notice that it’s pretty even, with men being happier about some things, women happier about others. On the issue of marriage, men seem to be a little happier, but not much. In other words, in life, both sides make compromises, both sides suffer, both sides benefit.
Equal rights and incomes for women? Absolutely, totally, without equivocation. Evil men with vast advantages? Bullshit.
I find the “are blacks or women more disadvantaged” argument objectionable because you can’t answer it without hallucinating that you know more about the other side than they do. Even the “Ask black women” thing I proposed doesn’t answer it for me---and frankly, about 80% of the answers I got from them said race was the biggest factor. AND I DON’T ACCEPT THAT. I discard it, because I don’t think you can come to a conclusion that doesn’t discount the experience and pain of others. Frankly, I think I’m bending over backwards to be fair here, and therefore feel perfectly comfortable playing fair arbiter and saying: if Obama beats Clinton, PLEASE don’t make this an issue of “man versus woman.” How ‘bout just two people, one of whom was ultimately more appealing? She SLAUGHTERED the other men she was running against. Doesn’t that count for anything?
The question of the day is: What is the largest prejudice you have overcome in your life?
For me, it was probably gays. It wasn’t until I was in High School and actually met some very cool gay people that I began to question the venom that I’d gotten in childhood. I’m embarrassed now to even remember the things I thought. How about you?
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:04 AM