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Yes We Still Should
Response to Comments on Obama

The Reagan-Bush years summed up

The comment thread responding to my latest piece on Obama is raising valid questions, especially regarding the matter of a vote against Obama being a vote for racism. Let me clarify. No, I don't think that anyone who votes against Obama is automatically racist. I do believe that should he lose, the racist vote will be to blame. This election will hinge on a few percentage points, those overly mythologized (and too-respected) undecided, for whom I have less respect than contempt, given the 28 years they've had to make up their mind between reaction and decency. Among those undecided, there will be those who'll tell a pollster one thing but who, once inside that voting booth, will vote primevally-against Obama simply and exclusively because he's black or, in their minds (the same brilliant minds who still think Saddam Hussein caused 9/11) because he's some Muslim fifth columnist. Those votes will decide the election. That's what I meant by history Michael: since Johnson lost the South with the Voting Rights Act, racism is the only reason the white South has voted overwhelmingly Republican. We can dress up the sociology for the politeness of Sunday morning chatter all we want. It comes down to racism, not policy.

Schizoid? All along I've made clear that my approach regarding Obama, or any Democrat in the 2008 race, would be two-fold:

  • First, the Democrat on his or her own merits, which is where I consider criticism necessary and inevitable no matter who the candidate may be (if Roosevelt, MLK or Thomas Jefferson were running today, it'd be easy to lash into them too).
  • Second, the Democrat in relation to the Republican. In that case, I revert to what I said months ago: a cockroach could have run as a Democrat, it'd still be better by several orders of civilizational magnitude than anything the Republicans were fielding. McCain, whom I found dangerous long before his run began has proven that again and again.

Now, there's always going to be plenty to say for and against Obama. But in the last eight weeks of the campaign, it's about who we want elected. There are those who'll choose not to vote. I consider that as democratic a decision as voting: it's a voice, even when it's not a ballot voice. And I've never subscribed to the frankly stupid idea that if you don't vote you lose your right to criticize whoever is running. But you don't earn the right of imposition, either: most of us will still vote, so will I. In 1988, the first year I could vote (I got my citizenship in '86) I voted for Dukakis with enormous reluctance. But he was still better than Bush. In 92 I voted Clinton with enthusiasm, less so in 96, and in 2000 I voted for Gore with plenty of enthusiasm as far as his domestic policies were concerned and plenty of dread as far as his foreign policy were concerned (believe me: he'd have been twice the Bush Bush was in Middle East wars). In 2004 I voted for Kerry with more anger than enthusiasm, knowing he had the brains and the policies but not the politics to make it work.

This year, and for the first time since I've been a citizen, I'm voting Obama without reserve, knowing fully well that his first 18 months in office, should racism or a bullet not knock him out first, will be a disaster of Karakoan proportions. (It's natural: Democrats have been out of power eight years, Obama's brand of rule has never been tested). But knowing too that he has what I admire most in human beings: to be an adaptable work in progress with a classically liberal foundation. He's got more intelligence than the Republican and Democratic fields put together. And if you don't waste your time listening to the TV chatter, he has the policies, too, which haven't bean nearly as inconsistent as they've been made out to be. Finally, what we seek most from the presidency isn't just policies, but the sense that the country has the kind of leadership and tone we want projected here and abroad. You want to tell me that Obama doesn't have those qualities?

What I've been hearing and reading here is the tendency to narrow down the pros and cons to a few decisive issues as opposed to looking at the two men in the running in their totality, and thinking: which of the two will stop being to the United States what Katrina was to New Orleans. To me it's a ridiculously easy choice. Even if it were reduced to a single issue. I only have to think about the Supreme Court. McCain will give us more Alitos. Obama won't. I'd say enough said, but it never seems to be enough.

Of course it's a lot more than that. The poor? The redirection of the tax code, universal health coverage (however flawed, and in this case I agree that Obama's plan on this count is the most timid, and too submissive to insurers) and the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit-the best anti-poverty tool since the Great Society-will together do more for the poor than anything since the Great Society. I want the reactionary Republicans, that Reagan era, over with. I have no doubt that Obama will endit. And do plenty more to realign the political structure. The thought that McCain could be elected literally depresses me (this is no figure of speech), so does the thought that at this late stage we're still capable of, and sorry about the cliche, missing the Amazon for the shrubs. We've had fuzzy, meaningless, no-difference elections. This isn't one of them.

Happy Labor Day.

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