Monday, November 3
The final push.
Contrary to the impression I'm sure I've given a lot of you, I am neither a knee-jerk liberal nor a straight-ticket Democratic voter; I've never voted a straight ticket in my life. And in fact, the first vote I ever cast in a primary election was for John McCain, when I was living in Virginia in 2000.
I voted for McCain not only because I thought he was a better and more thoughtful candidate than George W. Bush on the Republican side, I did so because I was giving serious thought to voting for him in the general election. Not that I didn't like Al Gore, but for a while it seemed like there was a little too much of the old running-because-he's-the-VP-and-that's-what's-expected-of-him motivation to his campaign, not because he had a passionate vision for the country. (Now, of course, I know better.) With his moderate stances on most issues and a reputation for working across the aisle, McCain seemed like the kind of person who could help heal the bitterly partisan wounds of the impeachment mess that was still so fresh in everyone's minds at that point.
Fast-forward eight years, of course, and McCain had dropped many of his moderate views and his status as a maverick willing to fly in the face of his party's leadership; as we've heard so many times throughout this campaign, he supported Bush on the Iraq war, flipped his stance to match Bush's on tax cuts, veered to his right on social issues, and a host of other things. Based on all that, I had a pretty good idea I wasn't going to be voting for him this time around. But when he got the nomination in the spring, I was still a little happy about that: For the first time in a while, we weren't going to have to pick from the lesser of two evils. Instead of a pair of mediocrities, we'd have two men of integrity, both with clearly contrasting visions of where they wanted to take this country. At a time when the country desperately needed a new set of ideas of where to go next, it looked like we'd actually get two good options.
Except Obama brought his, and McCain didn't.
Aside from staying in Iraq, lowering corporate taxes, and "Drill baby drill" -- incidentally, a carbon copy of what George W. Bush would be running on right now were he permitted by the Constitution to seek a third term -- I could not tell you a single idea McCain has bothered to propose, a single piece of his vision for how this country needs to move on from eight years of the Bush administration. There have only been attacks on Obama; there have been no ideas that didn't amount to glorified bumper-sticker slogans, no actual policy discussions that McCain didn't look like he was dragged into kicking and screaming. And even when McCain and his running mate did finally deign to discuss actual policy in the waning weeks of the campaign, it was simply to brand Obama as a "socialist" -- for wanting to do nothing more than make the highest tax bracket pay the rate they were paying eight years ago, back before Bush decided it was OK to burden my grandchildren with a crushing 14-figure national debt.
Where Obama offered a plan for disengaging from Iraq, McCain and his surrogates merely questioned Obama's loyalty, both to America and to Israel. Where Obama presented a way to get started on the road to universal health-care coverage, McCain and his surrogates whined about ACORN. Where Obama explained in great detail his plan to re-establish some sanity to our system of progressive taxation, McCain and his surrogates fed us a steady diet of Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. Look, I'm not saying that I have any affinity whatsoever for either of those two individuals, nor that I think Barack Obama's prior associations with them hold anything positive for his campaign. But to believe that Obama internalized every last extremist belief of Wright or Ayers, you'd have to believe the man is completely incapable of thinking for himself. To believe that those two men held Sen. Obama in such thrall that he is now committed to making their respective worldviews the law of the land, you would have to believe that Obama hates me because I'm white; that his hatred for the white power structure in this country is so caustic that he sympathizes with those who would do harm to America; and, probably, that he thinks America is wicked enough to have deserved 9/11. You would have to be a profoundly paranoid and extreme individual to believe any of those things, much less all of them, and yet two people who openly proclaimed that last belief -- Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson -- are two men whose blessing John McCain, not Barack Obama, sought during the course of this campaign.
Moreover, you would have to believe that a great number of Obama's supporters are driven by that same kind of anti-American mistrust and resentment. Think I'm being melodramatic? Go back and observe the rhetoric that has become a staple of the McCain campaign over the past few weeks: Sarah Palin's professed affinity for "real America" and "the pro-America areas of this great nation," presumably to the exclusion of fake and anti-America areas she has yet to specify; Nancy Pfotenhauer's tossed-off delineation of "real Virginia" from, again, the presumably "fake" part of the state; and, of course, Michelle Bachmann shockingly expanding her mistrust of Obama to directly advocate McCarthyite investigations to determine if each member of Congress is "pro-America or anti-America." For a campaign that's spent so much time and energy pushing the idea that Barack Obama is an elitist who disdains large parts of this country, the McCain people have shown no qualms about disrespecting and casting suspicion upon large parts of it themselves.
And that is no way for a presidential hopeful to act; this country cannot afford a commander-in-chief who only wants to be president of certain parts of it. And for all the furor over Obama's "bitter" comments or his alleged contempt for "flyover country," he has proposed a tax cut that will benefit 95 percent of the households in this country, and he brought his message to places few Democrats have dared to tread -- Montana, Indiana, North Dakota, even Arizona -- so that those voters can gauge him as a politician and a man, look at his proposals on their own, and make up their minds independent of the stereotypes that are basically a political version of every bad late-night stand-up comic's shtick: "Blue states vote like this, red states vote like this."
Whereas once I had a great amount of respect for John McCain's independence and integrity, I now believe that his election would amount to a continuation of some of the worst trends that have come to define our society over the past eight years. It would mean four more years of Bush policies, of course; it would also mean four more years of ignorance and incuriosity -- of the kind symbolized by McCain's snide, reactionary panderer of a running mate -- being held up as some kind of a sacred blue-collar virtue (an idea that should be as big an insult to the intelligence of blue-collar Americans as it is to everyone else). But most importantly, and most damagingly, a McCain victory would mean at least four more years of an infuriating, arbitrary red/blue divide that is as big an obstacle to America's continued strength and prosperity as anything that some overseas terrorist cell could cook up. Ladies and gentlemen, we face two full-scale military operations overseas, a financial crisis at home of that rare severity that affects both "Joe Six-Pack" and Wall Street CEOs, and a looming energy crisis that hasn't gone away no matter how excited we are to be paying less than $3 a gallon for gas -- and if you think this country is capable of overcoming all those problems while we're all being categorized as "red" or "blue" and then pitted against one another like King Lear's daughters being asked to prove who loves their father the most, you have a profound misunderstanding of what this country is all about.
I don't believe John McCain is a bad person, but at a time when he should be coming up with ways to bring this country together, his campaign seems to be looking for new ways to divide us, and I can't vote for that. I'm not one of those straw-man Pollyanna cultists who supposedly believe that Barack Obama is going to wave his magic wand and make everything better on January 20; no matter how much he preaches unity in his stump speeches, there will still be people in this country who will take his message and people who will leave it. But at least Senator Obama has given us that choice. Rather than deciding for us who will be part of his vision and who won't get the privilege, he's put his message out there in a way that opens it up to everyone, and let us decide for ourselves whether we want to buy in.
Well, I'm buying in. And I hope you'll do the same.
Whoever you're planning on voting for, whether you've bought into Obama's vision or you haven't, I hope you're going to go out and vote tomorrow. If division is bad, apathy is almost as damaging, because it's what allows division and resentment to fester. Go to the polls tomorrow, stand in line as long as you have to, and perform a very simple act as your way of proclaiming that this country and how it's run are things that still matter.
ADDED: Two far more eloquent endorsements here and here.