Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Heart of America

Reflecting on the campaigns for President being offered to us by McCain, Clinton and Obama, in light of the past seven-plus years, I pause to consider the question - what is the nature of America? Is ours a big heart of generosity and peaceful aspirations -- the heart we imagine - or have events changed us?

Is our national heart smaller, shriveled with fear and violent inclinations, and darkened by a misplaced faith in markets and self-interest? Has a tradition of self-reliance morphed into unilateral disdain for the views and concerns of other nations and a willfull exploitation of our poorer neighbors? Has our cultural optimism been preempted by a pessimism that tolerates illegal surveillance, suspension of habeus corpus, unprovoked aggression, and torture?

After 5 years of ongoing war in Iraq, the uninterrupted genocide in Darfur, the neglected problem of global climate change, the uninsured millions, the exploited guest workers and their families (aka illegal aliens), the extended sacrifice of soldiers and their families, the illegal actions by our government, and the tax cuts for wealthy Americans, a reasonable man might ask if the heart of America had been lost entirely and irretrievably in the Bush years. No doubt this is the conclusion many of our neighbors on this troubled planet have reached. Could they be wrong?

Consider the candidates and their campaigns:

Of John McCain, it must be clear now - even to those temporarily deluded liberals who bought the maverick-shtick - that he is the candidate who serves the pessimistic viewpoint best. His campaign is rooted in a vision of the heart of America: that our collective heart is a small, fearful, selfish, intolerant, English-speaking and Christian organ. Even now, with the nomination locked up, he is pandering to the far right-wing of his party, remarkably striving to assure the base of his commitment to continue the course of the past 7 years. He will stay in Iraq - for a hundred years if he needs to. He will not tamper with the Bush tax gifts to wealthy Americans. He might act to prevent torture, but as for immigrant workers - well, he has heard the voice of the voters on that one. Vaya con Dios. And, for the hard-core religious voters for whom an election is a test of theologies, McCain is working overtime to assure everyone that he is on board with Christianist theocratic principles (ie, America belongs to Jesus, Gay marriage is an abomination, abortion is murder, and the world is 6,000 years old).

I look to Hillary Clinton, and I am disappointed. Her campaign is a peevish and small-minded thing. A constant bickering about minor points and irrelevancies; a mindless leveraging of petty prejudices and gross distortions. Hillary's vision of the heart of America is that of a small golden heart-shaped locket with her picture in it. Inspiring, no?

Fortunately, there is Barack Obama. He believes in a big-hearted America - an America that is decent and wise, and that will do the right thing under the right leadership. He talks of hope, and his campaign is founded on it. How much more hope could anyone want? A black man with a name like Obama, running for President? That's a lotta hope.

When the Jeremiah Wright shit hit the fan, Obama could have played the safe card and denounced the man, left his church, in no uncertain terms. But instead, he offered the country an intelligent, sincere, and complex speech about race in America - trusting that a largely white audience would be capable of weighing his arguments and appreciating insights and perspectives that do not occur to them in daily life. He trusted, and hoped, in an America that is in no way post-racial today but nonetheless has within her a capability that is grounded in goodness. That is his vision of America; his understanding of our heart. I don't know if Obama is right about us, but vision is a powerful thing, and hearts and minds can be changed.

If the work of the nation in the next 8 years will include healing America's heart, then surely it will be a collective effort, and we will need a leader whose own eloquently expressed vision of the heart of America will sustain us along the path to recovery. Barack Obama is the only candidate who understands this, and has the talent and drive to get it done.

That is why I support Barack Obama for President.


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