Monday, November 03, 2008

The moment of truth

Yesterday afternoon, I got home after an exhilarating bike ride on a perfect southwest Missouri day. I had the day off to soak in some sunshine, hit the library and then the bike trail. Few things in life give me more peace. When I stepped in the door afterward, I flipped open the blinds and let the sunshine stream in. I plunked down and, as I often do, cracked open my bottle of water and sat down to check the latest goings-on online. This is when my mood changed.

It was then that I read that Barack Obama's beloved grandmother, Madelyn Payne "Toot" Dunham, had died Monday morning, just one day before the 2008 election. As we all know, Dunham had been like a second mom to Barack, raising him for a large portion of his childhood and was his rock in the years following his mother's early death. And despite the fact that she had been ill for some time, and that I didn't know her personally, I cried. First I cried because of the terrible loss that has befallen the Obama and Dunham families at such a pivotal moment. Then I cried some more after reading well-wishers online, who expressed the sort of spiritual sentiments for which I'm not known. The idea that Toot died assured of her grandson's victory and that she could be watching from heaven with Martin Luther King Jr. genuinely moved me (and anyone who knows me knows I'm generally not of that frame of mind). Someone made a comment online that Obama will never, ever regret having suspended his campaign to visit her in her final hours.

My grandfather, one of the biggest influences of my life and my lifelong next-door neighbor, died shortly before my 19th birthday. As much time as I spent with Pop all my life - at least as much as with my parents - he died while I was at the mall buying running shorts with my girlfriend. My cousin had made it from Hawaii to be at his bedside, but I wasn't there. That is the single thing I'd change in my life. Five months later, his wife of 53 years died as well. My last remaining grandparent, my dad's mom, died in 2006, and I spent my 26th birthday at her funeral. All three grandparents had been a huge influence in my life (my dad's dad had died in 1963). Losing them as an adult really gives you an appreciation for the fragility of life. In my relatively short adulthood, I've lost an unimaginable numbers of relatives, coaches, mentors and friends, to the point where I wondered if I could even shed a tear anymore. But something about Obama has sparked in myself an appreciation for the good in my own life and in those I know and love. He's reminded me of an optimism and decency that my 6th grade English teacher made me promise to never lose.

And this is why I cry for Barack Obama.

For me, support of Obama is so much more than the sum of his campaign and platform; he also brings a distinct humanity that many of us didn't know could exist in national politics. Obama isn't so much the man you want to have a beer with - well, that too - but he's also the man you'd trust with your children, or with your life on an operating table. Many make a big fuss over John McCain's patriotism or Sarah Palin's "realness," but in the end those qualities go only so far. Obama has both the cool intellect and the bedside manner that our country needs in its time of crisis. He isn't just the face of the U.S.; he will be its brain and heart as well.

And this is what perhaps has been the most remarkable aspect of Obama's campaign, no matter how it turns out. For too long, Americans have been more consumers than citizens, disheartened by a government they have always seen as too far gone. But Obama has given many of us not just change for its own sake, but a renewed faith in the idea that the people matter.

Obama's election would do so much more than install a Democratic president; it would validate a genuine movement toward civility and unity in politics. Obama is one of those rare candidates who makes politics feel less like a sport than a privileged civic duty. You don't want to work for him or vote for him as much as you want to do those things for the country. One of Obama's most common refrains is, "This election is not about me. It's about you." And it is, indeed, about all of us. After eight years of arrogance, fear, loss of rights and secrecy, U.S. citizens are hungrier than ever to be a part of their nation again.

Much of the credit for Obama's success goes to the incredible discipline and technology-driven nature of his campaign. While McCain freely admitted to not even checking his own e-mail without help, the Obama campaign made text messages, YouTube and other online works staples of their effort. They fought back quickly and decisively against any and all allegations, and even set up fightthesmears.com, a one-stop repository to counter all lies and innuendo.

It's sometimes said that someone can be measured by the quality of their critics. Obama's critics have taken desperation and prejudice to a whole new level. It started obviously enough, with fearful rhetoric about his race, childhood influences and that scary middle name of his. Then came the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose moment of incendiary speech electrified a nation of those who apparently didn't see the irony of criticizing a supposed Muslim for his Christian pastor, or the irony of letting McCain's courting of John Hagee slip by. As the public got to know Obama, and realize that the right-wing caricature hid a scholarly, upbeat, electric, all-American family man, the attacks predictably escalated. Suddenly, Obama's policies were deemed socialist and Marxist, and he became inextricably linked with the most extreme actions of anyone he'd so much as shared a table with in his life. But those mean attacks didn't catch on, because anyone who lived through the 1990s - such as every registered voter alive - could recall a time when Obama-esque economic policy did this country proud, just as it had in most of the pre-Reagan era. Nothing socialist or Marxist about that. Nothing reasonable about that perspective, either.

These attacks, assuming everyone goes to the polls today (and you'd better!!), will represent the death rattles of what will likely be seen as one of America's sorriest periods in history. It won't be easy to climb out of the canyon that was the Bush era, but the first rung has already come in the form of the Obama movement. Today is our chance to toss up a giant grappling hook in that climb by electing Barack Obama as President of the United States.

I look forward, as many do, to crying more tears tonight. Tears of joy. Let's get it started!

5 comments:

Brad said...

This was very well written and moving. Thank you for writing this. I really mean that.

rhonda said...

if you even decide to sleep, i know you'll set several clocks :)

harold D said...

Excellent post Ian... as usual. You nailed it.

Jason said...

Great post, Ian although I disagree that Obama's refrain "is, indeed, about all of us." I have a feeling the next four years (at least) will be completely ignoring those who have conservative values and beliefs.

Also, "Obama's election would do so much more than install a Democratic president; it would validate a genuine movement toward civility and unity in politics."

I saw the treatment given to McCain and Palin by Obama's most fervent supporters. There was very little civility and no attempts at unity. In fact, I saw many who were the flip side of the coin from the neo-con Bush-ites.

I'd like to say there will be civility and unity but I just see the Republican die-hards paying back the Democrats for every Bush insult over the last eight years.

Ian McGibboney said...

Jason, I fail to see how Obama will be hostile to conservative beliefs, aside from the fact that he won't try to force them on everyone else. He isn't going to stop abortion, but neither did the far-right Bush administration and neither would McCain have done so.

And all I need to say about the tone is that in Obama's victory speech, people cheered McCain while McCain supporters booed lustily every time he mentioned Obama in his very eloquent speech (which everyone I know said was beautiful).

I do think people are ready for unity. Any residual anger you see is from eight years of nothing but arrogant contempt from our leaders and their supporters, who've been telling us for years that we're not American. No one will miss that.