Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Obama Effect

I'm addicted to basically all forms of political media these days. It's like that Blue Cross Blue Shield commercial with the funny dancing buttless white guy, which for whatever reason I am totally mesmerized and endlessly amused by. The political addiction thing is much more of an emotional rollercoaster, with much less of a guilty pleasure quality and more of an intense sense of global impact and personal responsibility.

One of my earliest political memories is going to see the Reverend Jesse Jackson speak when Dukakis ran against Bush, Sr. in 1988. This was at the height of his influence in the 1980s, before time and exposure did what time and exposure seems to do to many public figures (particularly if they are Democratic, and perhaps even more particularly if they are people of color). It was at a church in St. Louis and, characteristically of all of virtually all my surroundings prior to the age of 18, my family and I were the racial minority in the room. I remember the sounds and smells of the room, the extreme tardiness of the guest speaker and the definite sense that something very important was happening. In a generation that was, at the time, removed from Kennedy assasinations, men on the moon and "I was [HERE] when..." events, it was a formative experience. In the years that followed, I would volunteer with my parents to complete mailings for various local, state and federal candidates for office, attend candlelight vigils for victims of gang violence, help operate a hot lunch program for the homeless, attend cross-denominational inner city church services and other (dare I say it) community organized events and efforts, all of which were accompanied by a profound sense of accomplishment, involvement and responsibility.

It is perhaps for this reason that when Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president, I cried from the moment that he walked on stage until the moment he walked off. Not only because of the content of the speech, though I am among those who believe that the government exists by the people and for the people and that people are inherently good, but because his candidacy represents so much to me. It is not insignificant that there is a very real chance that he will be the first Black president, and I feel priviledged to have lived to see such a day. Even more powerful, however, is the promise that his campaign brings to restore what the Bush administration and others have stolen from our great country, which is the responsibility of our fellow citizens to be involved, informed and engaged - not just for the good of themselves, but for the good of their fellow citizens. By contrast, after 9/11, while people were lining up around the block to give blood and searching actively for ways to help their country in distress, our President told them to go out and shop.

It's perhaps also why I find myself so incensed to discover people living in my country who truly buy the "every man for himself, pull yourself up by your boot straps" mantra of the Republican party. MPR ran a piece yesterday morning on the role of race in the presidential election. I suppose I should have expected to hear about this sooner, but I guess the chicks have taken center stage up to this point. For Barack, as the election draws closer, it's time for the "Bradley effect" to be on the lips of media pundits, and much less flattering terms among the less educated and/or more bigoted. Named for Tom Bradley, an African-American who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite being ahead in voter polls, the Bradley effect refers to a tendency on the part of white voters to tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a Black candidate, when, on election day, they vote for his/her white opponent. It has a name. What's maybe the most disturbing is not the guy talking to a national reporter and using racial slurs to describe Barack Obama, but the possibility that all of the momentum of this campaign - the signs, the shirts, the crowds, the hope, the content - might be sabotaged because of White people who are silently terrified of Black people. Particularly since, back on the blatant racism front, some states seem to be so amazingly adept at "losing" votes and getting away with it.

These are the sorts of things that make my eternal optimism falter. I wish I could vote a million times for every microsecond that someone who would vote for Barack Obama if they didn't know what he looked like thought about not doing it because they do know. I wish that everyone felt the same responsibility to the health and welfare of all of the citizens of this country as I was raised to have, and that Barack Obama's campaign wants to make sure everyone has the ability to act on. Instead, I'm hoping the revolutionary policy and infectious enthusiasm overcomes all of the pressure to repeat the past that the media seems intent to inflict. I hope it inspires people past inspiration into action.

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