February 3, 2008
I'm old enough to know better, but now that I'm living in a Super Tuesday state, I feel it is not only my responsibility and privilege to vote, it's also my obligation to beat the bushes to get others to do so. The excitement and chaos about the 2008 Presidential election has me in its grip.
I used to live in Alabama, which has always been pretty much a one-party state. Growing up -- and don't forget I'm the same age as Tom Brokaw -- that one party was the Democrats. Over the years, since the Dixiecrat splintering of the party in 1948, the later Goldwater takeover of the South, and Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, the same folks who once were yellow dog Democrats now pledge the same unthinking loyalty to the Republicans. Alabama is so close to 100 per cent Republican that casting a vote for a Democrat is an exercise in futility.
You may perceive that I'm pretty much Liberal. That will color much of what I write here. Try as I might, I cannot think of any way to persuade anyone to change his way of looking at politics. It's tribal -- we are conditioned from childhood to align with one party or the other, often sticking with that party in spite of who heads the ticket. I can't say that I have an open mind, but I must admit to being an eccentric voter. That is, I vote for the best person in the race, whether or not I see any chance of his being elected.
I don't know what led me to do this. It began in the 1960's when the major parties offered no one I could support. Good as he had been in the past, Hubert Humphrey was not a man I trusted with my vote in 1968. He seemed to be supporting a war he didn't believe in, and he refused, in that two-faced way politicians have, to separate himself from Lyndon Johnson, who had drawn the country deeper and deeper into the Viet Nam war, whom he had served as Vice President. On the other hand, I could not cast a vote for Richard Nixon. My vote that year went to . Dick Gregory, who at least made sense on the issues that mattered to me. It was a protest vote, admittedly, which my friends said helped elect Nixon. Trying to comprehend the traditional thinking that the Democrats and Republicans are all we have, I have had to hold my nose and vote many a time since that year.
I may have to do that in November, but I don't have to on Tuesday.
We are on the threshold of an era not unlike the 1960's, a time when Americans have the chance to be a part of a seismic shift in the way politics works in this country. If Barack Obama is only fractionally as good at governing as he is at delivering a victory speech, we have a chance to become a better country and a better world.
I feel sorry for the Clintons this year, the year they saw their opportunity to get Bill back in the White House through the side door; the year Hillary saw her chance to fulfill what she has apparently always assumed was her destiny as the first female President. When she choked up after losing the Iowa caucus, she was indeed human. My heart went out to her at that moment even though it seemed to be triggered by the sudden realization that she might not win. She went sorta female; her husband then went sorta ballistic. But that's all in the past now. How short our memories are when it comes to our leaders and their little public moments! Sen. Clinton has extraordinary focus and resilience, but whether she can grok it or not, she is up against something bigger than herself or her husband.
I don't pretend to know how this thing is going to go. Personally, I am moved by Barack Obama in a way that I have not been by any politician since John Fitzgerald Kennedy (and I was 20 years old the year Kennedy was elected; too young to vote). I remember the extraordinary well of hope he tapped into in young people -- at last there would be someone in the White House with purpose and vitality, someone I wanted to speak for me, someone willing to consult and sometimes defer to the greatest minds in the nation, someone who could lead us forward with idealism toward a new way of thinking and the chance for a better way of being.
That election was not a landslide by any means. Nor will this one be. Big events and small will occur on this journey to the election that we cannot imagine. If Obama actually does win, I can't predict that he will actually deliver on all he promises. But his campaign will invigorate and mobilize a nation for the good. And that's more than can be said for any candidate I've seen in my lifetime.
We've been through many traumas since the death of John Kennedy. We've engaged in way too many wars and we've tolerated too many mediocrities in the White House. I have no doubt that many women respond positively to the notion of a woman President, even this woman. But the baggage she has with her is too much for our country to deal with once more. She and her husband and many of their fans seem to be convinced she is not only up to the job, she's entitled to it. But that dysfunctional union does not have to be supported by a dazed and confused electorate. Let us take the step of trusting our ideals and put our support behind a candidate who offers more -- a vision for growth that transcends personal ambition.
All this being said, I'm sure you will vote the way you want. And this year, at least, there will be more Americans voting, more young people committing to be a part of the process, and more people inspired to commit to accept the small changes that could transform a nation. This is not a year to be cynical and sophisticated. If you're in a state that is part of the primary process on Tuesday, do me, yourself and the country this favor: Vote for Barack Obama.