|After eight years under a hapless President George W. Bush, I was looking forward to this year’s presidential election with great optimism. Now the anticipation is giving way to frustration and disillusionment, as the candidates, their party machinery and the political system itself focus too often on tearing down rather than building up. Even a man with the strength of convictions of maverick John McCain can’t avoid desperate acts in the face of possible defeat, and Barack Obama and his message of hope can’t withstand the wrecking ball forever.
One of the key issues early in this campaign, and a cornerstone of the Republican party’s platform, has been the war against terrorism. Terrorism is all about putting fear in the minds of a population, so that it acts irrationally and squanders its resources on the wrong things. Ironically, instilling fear is a tool that Republicans seem to wield expertly, in casting aspersions on their Democratic opponents. The Democrats seem less comfortable with this tool, but use it nonetheless. It doesn’t matter that truth is twisted or deformed in the process – as long as it achieves the aggressor’s aim. This form of terrorism is insidious, and ultimately, very harmful. Even our most compelling current challenge, the global economic crisis, has fallen victim to this form of terrorism, as partisanship crept into the discussion and fanned the flames of fear.
It seems that Republicans view a good offense as the best defense, and conversely, Democrats see a good defense as the best offense. What often results from this is that Republicans go into the attack mode first, and try to draw the Democrats into the fray. Democrats, in trying to fend off the attacks, seem weak by comparison. When Republicans attack, they often allege character and personal flaws (“socialism,” “elitist,” “palling around with terrorists,” etc.). When Democrats become the aggressors, their attacks generally seem more about policy differences (“out of touch,” “four more years,” “doesn’t get it,” etc.), and are therefore somewhat less personal.
In effect, these tactics are designed to plant negative thoughts in the minds of voters, either through innuendo or direct accusations. For an event of such import and such historic significance as this election, that’s a sad commentary. Our lives can be much better when we work together and accentuate the positives. Synergy is all about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and this unproductive discourse we’re seeing is, at best, a zero sum game. At worst, it’s a downward spiral toward collective failure.
Both candidates have adopted “change” as a theme, although one could argue that Senator Obama adopted it and Senator McCain co-opted it. The change I seek is to find ways to have civil discourse over issues that are important. The loudest voices aren’t necessarily the right ones to listen to. Unfortunately, we don’t often have all the facts, and the mantras that we hear begin to take on an air of reality as they strike chords that harmonize with some of our own thoughts and preconceptions.
I’ve read Barack Obama’s books, not out of blind loyalty to a man whose words resonated with me, but out of curiosity about the man behind those words. I’d read a couple of excerpts of one of his books, and Joe Biden was right – Obama is incredibly articulate. In his first book, Dreams from My Father, Obama talked about his early life, and his search for self which led him to learn as much as he could about his estranged father. In his second book, The Audacity of Hope, he outlined his political and social beliefs in self-effacing and brutally honest terms. He acknowledged his shortcomings, but made no excuses. His words paint a picture of an America that is fair, civil, strong and prosperous, and country and society that all Americans can be even more proud of.
For once, I’d like to see a presidential campaign where the candidates try to win the voters’ support by focusing on what they stand for, rather than trying to malign their opponent’s character, background or motivations. I hope that Barack Obama realizes that there are many of us who are starving to hear of the good that can be done, and notwithstanding the low-road campaign he’s been forced to turn to, will restore his positive message and return to the high road once this is all over. I hope he truly remembers where he came from and his reason for running in the first place. If he does, and if he prevails in the election, our great country will see a resurgence in the world and a return of our standing as a global leader. If he forgets, or if he doesn’t succeed in the election, I fear for our future, because the terrorists within will have won.