Sunday, June 22, 2008

Obama again

As I read his book, Dreams from my Father, I'm struck by how powerfully Barack Obama brings back the shape, the smell, the look and the feel of certain moments in time. He reminds me of what it was like to be a child in the 1960s and a college student in the late 1970s or early 1980s. To be formed in the post- New Deal, post-1960s, pre-Reagan world. He brings back the feel of those days, when people had serious discussions about socialism and feminism, and government was not considered a curse. When above all things, we didn't want to become bourgeois.

Forgotten emotions stir in me as I read Obama. I wonder if Caroline Kennedy, a great Obama supporer, doesn't feel the same stirrings. We all are of an age, a mini-generation. If Obama takes as his starting point idealized images of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, and Caroline Kennedy starts from her idealized images of her father's presidency as a return to Camelot, wouldn't that make them likely partners?

As has been often said, Obama resonates with young people. That's clear to me, living with teens who find him "cool" and from talking to the streams of 17- and 18-years when I worked in the primary elections as an election judge.

But I wonder now if Obama doesn't have a special resonance, either for good or for ill, for people who are of his same mini-generation as him, those of us born between about 1957 and 1963, people too young to participate in the 1960s, to have friends in Viet Nam or go to Woodstock, people who spent all of the 60s as children but are old enough to remember those times.

On the other hand, my proximity in age to Obama has, I think, made me unimpressed with him.

Obama is now being taken apart for his "ambition" and "opportunism," just as Clinton was. Can we get over this? To run for President is, by definition, to be ambitious and opportunistic.

It would be nice if Obama could prove to be another Lincoln, but I don't hold my breath. I also worry that his race will derail him. I hope this will not happen but I'm white and I know how white people think. White people are good at getting nervous about race and then convincing themselves they're nervous for some other, more socially acceptable, reason. For instance, anxiety about sending one's children to school with minority children translates into concern about "test scores." This then leads to flight to white areas, which might look racist, but which white people would deny had anything to do with race. I wonder if a white nervousness about the Obama's blackness (even though he's biracial) will build up and translate into some widespread anxiety about some other issue that is acceptable. Again, I hope this doesn't happen, and I hope that the younger generations are less uptight about race than their parents and grandparents!

Who are you supporting for President? What do you think of Obama?

1 comment:

Bill Samuel said...

Maybe there is something in the generation thing. I'm of an older generation which grew up in the 60's. So maybe I'm skeptical of the less idealistic, more mainstream attitude of the next generation.

I also remember JFK, whom Obama is frequently compared to. It is somewhat of a terrifying memory. JFK's extreme militarism so scared many people that they planned to flee the country to go far away to the Southern Hemisphere. My family was one of those, and my father got a job in New Zealand, but we were unable to pull together enough money to get over there.

I also remember JFK's campaign promise to "end housing discrimination with a stroke of the pen." Active in the civil rights movement in my teens, I was involved a year later in the campaign to send pens and ink to the President in a plea for him to keep his promise, which he never did.

Obama seeks to evoke idealism, but only in rhetoric not in actual positions. He has a thoroughly establishment record, and a record of going back on promises that are more encouraging. Like he campaigned for the Senate promising to vote against Iraq War funding, but has consistently voted for it. Like his opening campaign pledge to use public financing if his opponent did, and backing out on that recently. Like his promise to filibuster the FISA bill with the retroactive immunity for phone companies which violated the rights of customers, and then switching to support the bill.

And the Jeremiah Wright thing. Wright is a prophetic preacher, saying things that we need to listen to. Obama was a member of his congregation for 20 years, and Wright was preaching along the same lines the whole time, but when a few clips of Wright's sermons came out, claimed it was not the Wright he knew - a very clear lie. He made his initial speech criticizing Wright's positions, but inspiringly said he could never disown him. A few weeks later, and Obama did disown him. If character is important in a President, Obama is clearly unqualified. He lacks integrity or loyalty.

I am a consistent life ethic person, and so I look closely at stands on life issues. Obama is really bad on them. He has consistently supported spending more than half of the discretionary budget on wars and preparations for wars, and his campaign position is for increased funding and increasing the size of the active duty forces (virtually identical position to McCain, according to FCNL). He is probably the most extreme pro-abortion politician in America. He supports the death penalty, even though he admits it is not effective, and rushed to criticize the recent Supreme Court decision to limit the death penalty to murder and treason.

Obama has bad positions on some key issues, and a history of betraying his promises where his initial position seems good.

If we want change in the right direction, we can not vote for Obama or McCain. We have to go for a third party or independent candidate. I'm inclined to vote for Joe Schriner.