Like many of you, I sat down to watch the February 10th declaration speech given by Barak Obama with some trepidation and not a little cynicism. I had seen him speak before, and my original impression had been simply that he was an impressive speaker. Sitting through his speech on Saturday, however, I had to revise my opinion. He is not an impressive speaker, he is an enrapturing speaker, and beyond that he is speaking about things I care about in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. The man writes his own speeches, and doesn’t even use notes. Occasionally, I had the queer feeling that he had been reading my website…because how else could he have known precisely what I care about and what I want to hear? Feeling a faint electrical tingle which I eventually managed to identify as long-unused hope…I came to with the conclusion that I was surely being taken for a ride. I set out to dig some dirt on Obama.
Some quick background on Obama, for those of you who may have (somehow) missed the exhaustive (and repetitive) anecdotes displayed so prominently in the news and in Obama’s own speeches:
Barak Obama’s father was from Kenya, his mother was from Kansas, and they met in Hawaii. His Dad took off when Obama was two, and his Mom later remarried and moved to Indonesia. Barak spent a couple of years in a Muslim school there, followed by a couple of years at a Catholic school (and the reports of his being a closet Muslim appear to be greatly over exaggerated). He slacked off in high school, smoked some dope and did some coke, and then went on to college at Occidental University in Los Angeles. He transferred in his junior year to Columbia University, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations and, by his own accounts “finally buckled down”. After Columbia, he worked for a couple of years as a “grass-roots community organizer”, and then applied to Harvard Law School, where he wound up becoming the first African American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review. After that, he took jobs working for civil rights cases and lectured on Constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996, doing lots of good liberal deeds and earning a lot of respect for being able to cross partisan lines and hammer out compromises. In 2004, he made his run for one of the United States Senate seats for Illinois. Everybody said he was not “electable”, and yet he pulled 52% of the votes in the primary race…and with the incidental help of some nasty controversy surrounding his original opponent, Obama was elected Senator with a solid 70% of the vote.
It all sounds lovely so far…but we all know that no one gets into politics without some skeletons in their closet. I was determined to find Obama’s. Many hours and ten sore fingers later…I was dismayed. This is the summary of the fruits of my efforts:
- Obama used to smoke marijuana, did some cocaine, and still smokes cigarettes (though the latest reports claim that he is quitting). This was big news when it first hit the stands…but the American public by and large appears to be forgiving. After all, about 45.1 million people in the United States smoke cigarettes, nearly half of all Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, and 33.7 million Americans have tried cocaine. Guess most of us aren’t in the position to throw stones.
- Obama once bought a ten foot strip of land next to his property (apparently so he could put up a fence) from a woman who was married to a man who was a fundraiser for Obama, and who also is awaiting trial for trying to collect kickbacks on government deals. It’s really not Obama’s fault that the guy he bought land from is in trouble, so moving on…
- Obama once voted against having mandatory medical care available for aborted fetuses which survive the procedure. That really does not sound good. To my dismay, however, I also found his explanation: “It would essentially bar abortions because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this was a child then this would be an anti-abortion statute.” He realized a potential loophole in the wording. Ever play Nomic? Sadly, it appears that the man thinks, and thinks well.
- He voted against letting people use a self-defense argument if charged with violating local handgun bans by using weapons in their homes. This could be considered voting against the Second Amendment…if you have no logical capacity at all. It seems he was trying to maintain some consistency within the legal system. Hmmm…
- Salon.com went on a mission to dig some dirt on Obama’s environmental record, but wound up concluding: “This guy is a bona fide, card-carrying, bleeding-heart greenie.”
- As far as financial corruption, the man is reported as not even allowing anyone to “buy him a coke”. Apparently, he is squeaky clean here, as well.
- He voted “yes” on the Secure Fence Act of 2006. This was a foolish, short-sighted bill, and his support for it seems contradictory to much of his stated beliefs as to the means and methods for overhauling immigration policy. Ha! I’ve got you now, Obama! Too bad the rest of what you have to say on immigration reform makes so much damned sense.
- In March of last year, Obama voted to reauthorize the modified Patriot Act. This should have been the crowning blow…until I read his statement on the bill. Looks like he didn’t much like it, but thought it was better than nothing. On the one hand, we could consider this a sign of Obama being unwilling to strongly defend his beliefs. On the other, we are in desperate need of some diplomacy in our government, and this appears to be a diplomatic gesture. What to think?
This, so far, appears to be the worst of it. Unfortunately, in digging up all of these tidbits (only two of which could be considered “dirt”, the rest being a matter of voter opinion), I also ran across page after page of legislation he has sponsored with which I thoroughly agree, interviews in which he was both insightful and humorous, and speeches he has written which were so bloody articulate and clever that I felt a distinct longing to run out and buy his damned books. My conclusion, after reading Obama speeches and quotes until my eyes crossed, is that we appear to have a rare specimen on our hands: a thinking politician. No one is going to agree with Barak Obama on every single issue, because he appears to be a man with a broad vision and the intelligence to consider multiple angles on any issue. The result is as with any thinking person; he comes to logical conclusions which do not toe the party line. He appears to possess a deep and multifaceted mind comfortable with ambiguity and paradox, yet confident that satisfactory conclusions can be reached. In short, against all my wishes, I like the man. I respect his decisions, even when I do not agree with them.
The next question, then, is can he be elected? This is the hot topic in the news today, and the general underlying consensus appears to be “No!”. He is too inexperienced and too idealistic. He is too liberal, too fringe, he takes too strong a line on divisive issues. The Democrats, in short, think Hillary has a better shot at winning, and don’t want to gamble on a young, multiracial man with only a couple of years in national politics under his belt. They have been burned before, and all they want at this point is the Republicans out of the Chief Executive’s office.
The Democrats are missing something vital in their assessment, however. America is ready to gamble on a miracle. The last six years have so disheartened, so broken our nation that we will place our bets on a longshot and go for broke. The midterm elections were a demonstration of how disgusted the people have become. The initial acts of Congress this year have been, overall, a surprising show of recognition of the watchful eye of the American people. The 2008 election could be a quiet revolution.
The American people are exhausted from trying to sort through the lies and doublespeak of our politicians. We are war-weary, sick of partisan politics, burned out on fear. Americans are begging for hope and change, and offering up a middle of the road Republicrat will only discourage them more. Cynics, intellectuals, farmers, and craftsmen are enamored of Obama. Republicans and Democrats alike respect him and his ability to bring all sides of any issue to the table.
In short, the only thing keeping Obama from being “electable” is the Democratic Party’s fear of what will happen if they take a chance. It would be a pity to see that fear create a reality which merely ensures we will continue down a predictable path to a whimpering ruin. We have a chance, perhaps, to jump the rails. To take off into places we cannot predict, cannot guarantee, and right now do not quite even dare to dream that we could go. It is time. Just one last time, let’s muster our courage and dare to dream that it could be different. Truly, we have nothing to lose.