I’m a pretty cynical person most days, but I have a couple of good friends who make me look like the love-child of Mother Theresa and Gandhi. One of them emailed me today asking me to convince him about Obama: “C’mon Guy, if anyone can sell me, it’s you….do your worse…..convince me why I’m not just settling for the candidate I dislike the least!”
What started out as a brief reply became a much longer one and I decided to post it here because I suspect there might be others who know my cynical side and are curious about how I fell for the “hope” candidate.
Short answer: Because cynicism enables the status quo.
Slightly longer answer with a dash of cynicism: To paraphrase John McCain’s take on global warming, “If we’re wrong, worst case scenario is we end the Clinton/Bush dynasty and still get a Democrat in the White House.”
Long answer, personal/persuasive essay style: For me, it’s not simply about how progressive Obama is or isn’t, because if it were about that, I’d still be in Kucinich’s corner, the only real progressive to run for President in the past 2-3 elections. Obama is a moderately progressive Democrat, but he doesn’t play the cynical us vs. them game which simply guarantees another 4-8 years of partisan gridlock, no matter which side wins.
What I like most about him is that he’s a realist — putting forth policy proposals that actually have a realistic chance of being passed instead of the pie in the sky shit everyone wants to hear but knows they’ll never see in their lifetime, ie: a Department of Peace — but he has the heart of an idealist. Bill Clinton was right about the “roll of the dice” thing, but the gambler isn’t those voting for Obama it’s Obama himself, appealing to the idealist in all of us, daring people to not just hope for better but to get off their asses and help make things better; trusting that they are smart enough to look beyond the sound bites they hear on the evening news and look deeper themselves.
Honestly, I didn’t buy into it right away, either, cynically pegging him as another Howard Dean-style opportunist, but the more I’ve looked into his background and his proposals, the more I’ve watched him conduct what has been a rather impressive campaign when you think about who and what he’s running against — the more I started to believe that what he was offering was much bigger than simply retaking the White House for the Democratic Party.
As for his record, I think you have to look at his years in the Illinois legislature to get a real sense of who he is and what he’s done, much more than the 2+ years he’s been in the Senate before the Presidential campaign became his focus. I was fully expecting him to come out swinging from Day One and wrote him off pretty quickly when he didn’t, but now I realize that 1) that’s not how the Senate works for a first-term Jr. Senator, no matter how popular you are, and especially when you’re in the minority party, and 2) that it was that realization that made him decide to fast-forward and run for President.
I believe he’s tapped into a similar vein that Dean did back in 2004, but where Dean chose to direct that gusher towards anger and anger is always difficult to sustain, Obama has chosen hope instead, and hope, when properly cultivated, tends to feed on itself, growing bigger and bigger until it can’t be ignored or mocked or scorned, and at that point it starts to become action and when people start to act from a position of hope instead of one of fear ( or our favorite, cynicism), the rules of the game change and anything becomes possible.
I think we’re starting to see that already, and Tuesday is the moment of truth, where all those hopes can either be channeled into one resounding action, or they can be buried again under a wave of cynicism.
Honestly, I don’t think I can sell you or anyone else on voting for Obama over Clinton, or even convince you that you should bother to vote at all. All I can do is encourage you to take a serious, open-minded look at what’s at stake — on Tuesday, in November, and most importantly, in the years to come — and ask yourself a simple question: “Eight years from now, do I want to be able to say that I took a chance on hope instead of settling for cynicism yet again?”