“Barack Obama will lead us to the promised land!”
I don’t remember who said this at the Democratic National Convention in August, but I do remember the crowd cheering wildly. And I remember feeling a little bit sick to my stomach, because — to me — this kind of bizarrely messianic rhetoric is symbolic of everything that is wrong with Barack Obama’s campaign.
Notice I say the problem is with Sen. Obama’s campaign, not necessarily with the senator himself. Honestly, I don’t know what to think of the man himself. I know he is an eloquent speaker and a pretty good writer. I read his book, The Audacity of Hope. I’ve listened to him speak many times. I find him fascinating, inspiring — dazzling, even. I was happy to see him win the Democratic primary. He is incredibly likable, and he has a once-in-a-generation mind.
But being smart is not good enough. Herbert Hoover was smart, and he helped dig us into the Great Depression. Being personable is not good enough either. Ulysses S. Grant is reputed to have been incredibly likable; politicos and swindlers liked him so much they helped make his administration one of the most corrupt in US history.
Over the summer, the McCain campaign tried to make hay out of the idea that Obama’s candidacy is driven by celebrity appeal. They even released an ad comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. I doubt the ad helped McCain very much, mainly because average Americans tend to like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton a lot more than politics. (The ad also had the unfortunate added effect of highlighting the fact that McCain is too old to know who Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are.)
But there is some truth to the Republican charge that Obama’s campaign is a feel-good factory without much substance to it.
For all of the Obama campaign’s high minded rhetoric about how this was going to be a campaign of new ideas, most of what he has offered has been recycled from the old Democratic playbook. For example, take Obama’s signature issue, the one he polls best on: The economy. While his rhetoric differs from McCain’s, and while he currently benefits from not having spent the last 30 years in Washington feeding the very beast that is now collapsing before our eyes, his basic plan has been to go along with what the Democratic Congressional leaders were already saying.
Yes, he’s concerned about the amount of money the government would use to bail out giant corporations that have defrauded the public, and he thinks there should be more regulation — but he doesn’t seem to get that an economy in which profit trumps people is fundamentally flawed. Or if he does understand that, he’s not willing to show us.
But it’s supposed to be okay that he doesn’t get it — because I should trust him, because he’s young and he has that Kennedy spirit, an aura of intangible hope that mustn’t be questioned. He is the answer to all our problems, the one we’ve all been waiting for. He is Neo. He is The One. He’s even been compared rather favorably to Jesus Christ (who apparently was also a community organizer, in which case Sen. Obama has crucifixion to look forward to).
Yet, in the end I still intend to vote for the guy, for three simple reasons. First, he is opposed to the war in Iraq, which will only escalate under John McCain. Second, he is for universal health care, which is too important to too many sick people in this country to wait another four years. Finally, he may be able to respond to the environmental crisis in a meaningful way. John McCain could have said the same thing in his 2000 campaign, but now that he’s decided that drilling holes up and down the shoreline is the only way to increase our energy supply, he’s lost all credibility on this topic.
These are not new ideas. They are, in many ways, pretty standard Democratic positions. But this year, despite other areas where the Democrats and I part company, these are the issues that matter most. And while intellect and charm are not enough to bring about real change in Washington, maybe — just maybe — they’ll be enough to implement some very important old ideas that were long ago left on the meat hook of political expediency.