As a Democrat of a certain age, I’m accustomed to Republicans nominating Ronald Reagan wannabes for president - candidates who never saw a war they didn’t like or a rich guy that didn’t deserve a tax cut. While some on the right fret that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is not sufficiently xenophobic, or that he might have a soft spot for ethics reform, they need not worry. McCain will be an able cheerleader for the same policies that have come to define the GOP brand: bigger deficits, more uninsured, fewer civil liberties.
What I’m not used to is Democrats nominating a candidate as capable and transformational as Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. For the first time in a generation, we have a candidate who can articulate the progressive agenda for what it is: empowering, inspirational, and, well, cool. In Republican enclaves from Mississippi to Idaho, Democrats, independents and even many disaffected Republicans are climbing out of the bunker to be a part of history - to be able to say “This is when America became great again.”
Why is it that in Oregon an ocean of 75,000 people spent a hot Sunday afternoon cheering a politician’s stump speech? How is it that Obama has so stirred the apathetic from their slumber, rejuvenating the spirit of America’s participatory democracy? There are as many reasons as there are Obama supporters, I suspect, but the refrain is similar.
Obama is not tied down to the stifling Washington conventional wisdom, which says, for example, that we only negotiate with our allies and never our enemies.
Obama is not beholden to the big moneyed special interests - he refuses any donations from PACs or federal lobbyists.
And Obama treats voters like adults. He could have pandered with the “gas tax holiday” his opponents were touting, but he trusted voters would see the gimmick for what it was. And his speech on race relations in America was stunning for its nuance and honesty - traits sometimes rumored extinct in today’s politicians.
Finally, the commander in chief test for 2008 was whether or not the candidates had the courage and judgment to oppose the Iraq war in 2002. Barack Obama passed and John McCain failed. Instead of admitting his inadequacy on foreign policy issues (as he has with economic issues), McCain has taken a trip to fantasyland.
He is confused about the distinction between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, confused about troop levels in Iraq and confused about levels of progress. As McCain cheered developments in March 2007, he blustered that “General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee.” CNN’s fact-checker found “laughter down the line” when he ran McCain’s quote by military personnel. For McCain’s self-described signature issue, he sure is wrong a lot.
If we have gleaned any lessons from eight years under an administration with a stated disdain for the “reality-based community,” it is that this kind of stunning disconnect should be very unsettling. The “make up facts at your convenience” doctrine gave us a war based on ephemeral weapons of mass destruction, budgets grounded in fuzzy math and an environmental policy shaped by officials apparently high on those heart-healthy tailpipe emissions.
America has had a little too much “truthiness” lately, a little too much “from the gut” and not enough “from people who know what they’re talking about.” This time, let’s elect a leader who doesn’t avoid facts or casually make them up. Let’s elect an exceptional man who speaks some simple truths: This war must end. This planet must heal. This economy must be just. This time, let’s elect Barack Obama.
Jacob Shelly is a senior in the School of Public Affairs and a guest liberal columnist for The Eagle.