As the economy continues to wreak havoc on friends, family and strangers, as the wars rage on in the Middle East, as my own future looks incredibly uncertain, I went out today and voted for Barack Obama & Joe Biden. And while the cynical part of me knows that it’s very likely Obama may disappoint in many ways, the optimistic part of me has allowed myself to believe this guy may actually create huge positive change and is a self-aware individual, something I’ve never felt about a candidate in my lifetime (I’m 45 today). So I’m hoping that Obama is a president I can take pride in and can restore this country to a country I take pride in. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to feel that.
It saddens and confuses me when I think about family members I dearly love whom I believe will be voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin today. Family members who struggle to make ends meet, find themselves out of work, deal with major and minor physical and emotional disabilities, have young children who will want an education and a safe future rich with possibility, homes that are under construction and in flux… It pains me to watch decisions be made that I think are destructive, both to self and others. And I can’t help but feel that it’s not unlike finding your family members in support of Joseph McCarthy and his power-hungry, hate-filled communist witch-hunt. People whose fear is so malleable that they can be made to believe that cutting off one leg will help them run faster. It’s a terrifying misjudgment of character and an extreme example of the political illiteracy of many Americans. Let’s hope not too many.
This election has moved beyond simple ideological differences. It has moved to the difference between right and wrong. In this time of such conflict the world over, in a time when our country faces its greatest struggle for survival since, well, the Civil War, it’s difficult to watch the ones you love be taken in so easily. Good people, kind people, well-meaning people. It does not sit easily in the gut. And it is disheartening, frightening and confounding. And it is hard to know exactly how to react, except to know that it’s okay to feel torn, to be confused, and to wish it were otherwise.
It’s so easy to forget that not all people who ascribe to any particular political party, ideal or belief all think alike. During these past 8 years of Bush/Cheney, it’s been hard to keep that in mind as so much of what I personally value about this country was threatened. Some would say Bush’s intentions were good, but his decisions were bad. Others would say he had a personal agenda and simply lied to get what he wanted. I have no way of knowing where the truth lies, but I do know that I felt increasingly like I had found myself in a country I no longer recognized. Sure, most of the people around me shared my beliefs and fears, but I live in Los Angeles, a liberal city, and work in the entertainment industry–as an artist, not a businessman. So my experience of what people think and what they believe based on my personal experience does not very likely reflect the majority of this country.
When President Bush got reelected in 2004, my heart sank and a tangible layer of hope and optimism was stripped away; I no longer had faith that Americans as a whole could recognize what was happening to them; that our ability as a nation to be self-aware, to learn from past mistakes, had eroded. Or never existed at all.
But this election has given me a renewed sense of hope. And not just because I believe Barack Obama might move this nation toward a vision of America I personally share. I’ve seen too many politicians come and go, too many promises forgotten or pushed aside. I know that, even though Obama is unquestionably the most exciting candidate to come along in my politically aware lifetime, he could prove to be “just another politician.”
No, what’s renewed my hope and optimism is the McCain/Palin campaign. That’s right. McCain/Palin. To my mind, Sarah Palin was a supremely irresponsible choice for running mate on the part of John McCain. Though I understood the initial attraction so far as changing the political game by tossing in the unexpected and stealing some of your opponent’s thunder, I felt it would be a disaster for the country if she were to get elected. Initially, upon watching the Republican base embrace this woman, a familiar dread began to stir inside me.
As I continued to watch John McCain toss aside many of his own beliefs throughout this campaign, as I watched his desire to be president take him down paths I thought quite disturbing, I feared I would once again be in the minority and that I would end up in that Twilight Zone where no one seems to see what’s going on. But as John McCain’s campaign became uglier, nastier… as he himself showed us a man straining and failing not to come across arrogant, condescending and angry… As Sarah Palin proved over and over again that she was nowhere near ready to represent the best America had to offer, people started speaking up. And not just people like me, not just liberal Democrats who knew without question which way they were voting early in this campaign, but conservatives, Republicans, military personnel, political advisors, on and on… They too saw what was happening and began speaking out, voicing their concerns, sharing their thoughts. And so they started coming out against the candidate who represented the party that most closely epitomized their ideals and vision of America. Not because they had lost faith in the party, but because they realized that the man and woman heading the call of that party no longer represented them; they had gone to a place that was so clearly damaging, so obviously rooted in something other than the best interests of this nation, that to deny that would be to allow this country to slip deeper down the dark chasm it has been sliding down for eight long years. Only this time, the world was in an even more dangerous, even more vulnerable place. And so was America.
On October 20th, conservative diplomat, political writer, and policy analyst, Ken Adelman, came out for Barack Obama. Or, more precisely, against John McCain. Adelman was once an advisor to President Reagan and the Assistant to United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He was initially a big supporter of the Iraq War. In the most recent edition of THE NEW YORKER, Adelman discusses his reasons for not supporting John McCain:
“When the economic crisis broke, I found John McCain bouncing all over the place. In those first few crisis days, he was impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird. Having worked with Ronald Reagan for seven years, and been with him in his critical three summits with Gorbachev, I’ve concluded that that’s no way a president can act under pressure. Second is judgment. The most important decision John McCain made in his long campaign was deciding on a running mate. That decision showed appalling lack of judgment. Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency. But that selection contradicted McCain’s main two, and best two, themes for his campaign—Country First, and experience counts. Neither can he credibly claim, post-Palin pick.”
“I’ve considered myself less of a partisan than an ideologue. I cared about conservative principles, and still do, instead of caring about the GOP.
“Granted, McCain’s views are closer to mine than Obama’s. But I’ve learned over this Bush era to value competence along with ideology. Otherwise, our ideology gets discredited, as it has so disastrously over the past eight years.
“McCain’s temperament — leading him to bizarre behavior during the week the economic crisis broke — and his judgment — leading him to Wasilla — depressed me into thinking that “our guy” would be a(nother) lousy conservative president. Been there, done that.
“I’d rather a competent moderate president. Even at a risk, since Obama lacks lots of executive experience displaying competence (though his presidential campaign has been spot-on). And since his Senate voting record is not moderate, but depressingly liberal. Looming in the background, Pelosi and Reid really scare me.
“Nonetheless, I concluded that McCain would not — could not — be a good president. Obama just might be.
“That’s become good enough for me — however much of a triumph (as Dr. Johnson said about second marriages) of hope over experience.”
In yesterday’s online edition of NEWSWEEK, ex-Bush official Nicholas Burns also came out against McCain and Palin. It should be noted that Mr. Burns, now retired, was the United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs within the Department of State, the highest-ranking American career diplomat. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate by President George W. Bush in 2005. Here is what he had to say:
“Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing.
“The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela?…
“The real truth Americans need to embrace is that nearly all of the most urgent global challenges—the quaking financial markets, climate change, terrorism—cannot be resolved by America’s acting alone in the world. Rather than retreat into isolationism, as we have often done in our history, or go it alone as the unilateralists advocated disastrously in the past decade, we need to commit ourselves to a national strategy of smart engagement with the rest of the world. Simply put, we need all the friends we can get. And we need to think more creatively about how to blunt the power of opponents through smart diplomacy, not just the force of arms.
“Talking to our adversaries is no one’s idea of fun, and it is not a sure prescription for success in every crisis. But it is crude, simplistic and wrong to charge that negotiations reflect weakness or appeasement. More often than not, they are evidence of a strong and self-confident country. One of America’s greatest but often neglected strengths is, in fact, our diplomatic power. Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Libya in September—the first by a U.S. secretary of state in five decades—was the culmination of years of careful, deliberate diplomacy to maneuver the Libyan leadership to give up its weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism. She would not have achieved that victory had she refused to talk to the Libyans…
“Rather than default to the idea of using U.S. military force against Iran, wouldn’t it make more sense for the next American president to offer to negotiate with the Iranian leadership?…
“The next U.S. president will have little chance of securing peace in the Middle East if he doesn’t determine Iran’s bottom line on the nuclear issue through talks. Similarly, there will be no peace treaty between Syria and Israel if we don’t support the talks underway between those countries…
“The next president needs to act more creatively and boldly to defend our interests by revalidating diplomacy as a key weapon in our national arsenal and rebuilding our understaffed and underfunded diplomatic corps. Of course he will need to reserve the right to use force against the most vicious and implacable of our foes. More often than not, however, he will find that dialogue and discussion, talking and listening, are the smarter ways to defend our country, end crises and sometimes even sow the seeds of an ultimate peace.”
We are still a young country. We are still trying to understand and define the soul of America. Who are we? As a nation? As a people? Are we destined for greatness, or are we to be yet another example of greatness gone awry, misled? Are these just growing pains, or is it a death rattle?
The process of that discovery is fraught with hardship and loss, with changes and growth both exciting and terrifying. It is a painful path, an uncertain path, a demanding path. But a path that if taken with eyes and hearts wide open, with a desire for self-awareness, self-criticism and self-respect, then America may just find its soul and learn to nurture it. And I believe the whole world would be a better place for it.
Someone once told me the closer you get to achieving your life’s goals, to becoming the things that you are most compelled to be, the more monsters and demons will rise up to stop you. And many of those monsters and demons will be of your own making. I have found this to be true. Both in my personal growth and in watching the growth of this country, both historically and presently. I hope we can face those monsters together and find ourselves, one day, on the other side.