Regardless of whether you’re a staunch Republican or Democrat, the one thing that can’t be denied is that this coming election promises to be unlike any election we have experienced in our history. Barack Obama, in spite of his so-called lack of experience and knowledge has not only succeeded in becoming a Presidential candidate, he has also become a cultural phenomenon, not because of his race or the fact that he is the first black candidate, but because of his ability to generate a message that resonates with what people are actually experiencing and feeling. Certainly, the speech he gave in Berlin the other day attests to that:
That is why I’m here. And you are here because you too know that yearning.
This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that
the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from
both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice
for that better life.
Obama, as he said earlier in his speech, spoke to them “not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen—a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.”
And as a fellow citizen, he reminded Berliners of the wall that once divided them, and how Germans and Americans were able to unite together and bring about the eventual collapse of East Berlin. He spoke of duty that people and countries have toward one another, and that only by working together, will people be able to solve the major problems we are faced with today.
This September 11th will mark the seventh anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. Although President Bush’s quick and decisive response to the attack gave the impression we were a country not to be messed with, his unilateralist polices that have framed our response to terror have had questionable results and consequences. Our attack on Afghanistan at the time seemed to be an appropriate response to the madness that was unleashed on us by Al Qaida. On the other hand, our invasion of Iraq seemed less certain in its rationale.
But as Obama emphasized in his speech, this war on terror is very real and must be defeated, not by isolationist policies, but by partnering with Europe and other free countries that are willing to share ideas and work together in the spirit of cooperation. As he says, “it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.”
In that regard, I could not agree with him more. His speech in Berlin was not addressed so much to them, as it was to us here at home. More than anything, his speech spoke about the walls that divide us as a people. The Berlin Wall separated a city. A physical wall, though, can be torn down. It is the invisible walls created by race, religion, culture and politics that can be more impenetrable and divide us in ways not always easily understood or appreciated. In this election, Republicans and Democrats are further apart in their ideologies than ever before.
Since 9/11, we have been on the cusp of a major paradigm shift that neither party seems to have recognized or fully appreciate. The War on Terror is only one of the more serious threats we are faced with. Our addiction to oil, and the consequences we may be faced with by continuing increases in prices and eventual shortages, could force us to completely redefine how we live our day-to-day lives.
In contrast to Obama, John McCain’s campaign is fast becoming an asterisk. His is an ideology that does not resonate with the people, nor generate any excitement. He says “America needs leadership devoted to the public interest, not the special interest, and a government that fulfills its duties with unfailing integrity, accountability, and common sense.” But we have heard that before. He says he will “provide effective leadership for effective international efforts” in dealing with issues concerning low-carbon energy production, and that he will take a leadership role at the United Nations.
Mind you, I like John McCain. I appreciate his sense of duty and commitment to our country. I believe him when he says Americans have lost their trust in government. And I believe he is sincere in his intent to provide the kind of leadership we so badly need at this time. However, the pall Bush’s shadow has cast has made him appear to be more of a political anachronism than the charismatic politician that Obama has become.
Perhaps it is in that regard that I find myself conflicted; more so than I have been in any other election. That Obama is a skilled orator, able to affect his audiences’ sense of pathos by swooning them into believing his message of change and hope for the future, cannot be denied. What is questionable, though, is whether he has the fortitude and resolve to lead our country through the perils we will continue to be faced with. Oratory alone will not help us with the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor will it effectively resolve the continued instability in the Middle East. Oratory certainly will not persuade Ahmadinejad to give up his quest to develop nuclear weapons for Iran. And, as proven in previous elections, oratory will not put gas in our tanks, create jobs, or pay our mortgages and rent.
In concluding his speech, Obama states that “the scale of our challenge is great.”
Whether that is a profound understatement or an example of fumbling naiveté is subject to debate. Regardless, it is the fumbling naiveté I worry about, since more often than not, it leads to bitter disillusionment. Yes, as he says, “this is our moment. This is our time.” But does he have the courage to provide the real leadership we so desperately need? Come November 4th, that is the question I will be thinking about when I go to the election booth to cast my vote.