Friday, February 22, 2008

I don't know a ton about politics, but in the last 4 months I've amassed more interest in the changing political landscape than all of my lifetime's previous inklings of interest combined.

This week, after McCain's win in Wisconsin, he began his combat on Sen Obama by saying "I will work hard to make sure Americans aren't deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change."

While I've been open about my support for Sen. Obama, I HAVE found myself wondering about the positives and negatives of a general call for Change. On the one hand, Americans at large aren't inclined to listening to long, detailed, explicit diatribes on how to create change. We like sound bites, slogans, and quippy comebacks. So anyone playing in this ball field, is subject to some of those rules in order to get people on their team. A candidate sort of HAS to be general in order publicize. They all do it: Clinton is "Help make history" - a clear play on her draw as a feminist. McCain is boiled down to war-hero and experience. Huckabee is the pastor - a favorite for the Christian religious right.

But when you have to operate with generalities, you open yourself up to this type of criticism that McCain brings forth about Obama: that you're being too general. And if it were any other year, I probably would have heard that quote and found myself agreeing to some small degree; all I see on the news is clip after clip of Obama calling for change. And that's because, if you're an intern at a news office, and you're clipping portions of footage of a rally for the 5 o'clock news, you pick the byte that sums it up...

SO, Is the call for change "empty"? Is it, as that quote implies, just an idea that people are getting all worked up over, without any substance?

In order to answer that for myself, I've been reading the Audacity of Hope. And here are some things I've discovered (although I'm not finished with the book yet):

1.) This call for change is extremely well researched and thought-out. Obama begins the book with a historical look at where the country has gone politically in the last 50 years - especially after Reagan - and the way that this has resulted in polarized partisanship. He very clearly looks back at how our country has changed and uses that as a backdrop for the awareness of how change could happen.

2.) The call for change is a call for the country at large - not one targeted at the Republicans. He sees the errors in the political machine go big... that we're all involved in. "In distilled form, though, the explanations of both the right and the left have become mirror images of each other. They are stories of conspiracy, of America being hijacked by an evil cabal. Like all good conspiracy theories, both tales contain just enough truth to satisfy those predisposed to believe in them, without admitting any contradictions that might shake up those assumptions. Their purpose is not to persuade the other side but to keep their bases agitated and assured of the rightness of their respective causes - and lure just enough new adherents to beat the other side into submission."

3.) The call for change is general, because the change HAS TO BE GENERAL. Duh. That seems like such an obvious statement. We've boiled presidential candidates down to a list of policies - or worse - to a list of things we just do or don't like about them (I.e. "I won't vote for someone with the same name as Osama bin laden." yes, I've had someone say that to me). But a President of the world's greatest superpower has to be able to see a larger vision of what COULD BE. And that idea, of a country that is not so divided, would be a change that would dramatically affect every policy we have.

4.) Whether or not the call for Change is empty has been, and will be, proven by the way that Obama responds TO that criticism. HIS criticism of the Republican party is largely based in how it has made the chasm between left and right dramatically wider; because that is how it maintains power. Fundamentalism (not Christian, or even political... just "fundamentalism" in general) is ALWAYS more powerful if it can convince those under it's umbrella to fight harder, listen less, dig in their heels, and oppose at all costs. This is exactly what will happen after the primaries. And the temptation, if Obama is nominated, will be to play by those rules. "Ultimately, though, I believe any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and ideological strategy misapprehends the moment we're in. I am convinced that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose." To do so would nullify the message. It would be like a pacifist and just-war theorist arguing their cases. If the pacifist grabs his opponent's lapels and starts shouting, in order to make his point, then he has actually proven himself wrong.

Anyway - this blog entry is subject to the worst danger of the blog-o-sphere: that I'm just another bumbling idiot who puts their opinion up on the net like it's a credible source for real information. But this is what I've been thinking about... so here you go. I'll end with a passage I really liked from the 1st chapter of Audacity:

"Maybe the critics are right. Maybe there's no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, and any attempts to alter the rules of engagement are futile... We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or cheap shot to beat the other team, so be it, for winning is all that matters.

But I don't think so. They are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way - in their own lives at least - to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves. I imagine the white Southerner who growing up heard his dad talk about niggers this and niggers that but who has struck up a friendship with the black guys at the office and is trying to teach his own son different, who thinks discrimination is wrong but doesn't see why the son of a black doctor should get admitted into law school ahead of his own son. Or the former Black Panther who decided to go into real estate, bought a few buildings in the neighborhood, and is just as tired of the drug dealers in front of those buildings as he is of the bankers who won't give him a loan to expand his business. There's the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion, and the Christian woman who paid for her teenager's abortion, and the millions of waitresses and temp secretaries and nurse's assistants and Wal-Mart associates who hold their breath every single month in the hope that they'll have enough money to support the children that they did bring into the world.

I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point. They don't always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility, between those things that last and those that are fleeting.

They are out there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them."

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fitness Bootcamp (4th week of 6): I never thought I'd like it - but it's one of the coolest things I've done. Sarah and I are up at 6am, to the park with our mats by 6:25 and workout until 7:30am. It's the hardest workout I've had since highschool, but we're all out there together (about a dozen of us), the instructors are awesome, and when you finish you feel so great! It's interesting the way that health perpetuates health. Getting up and working out - instead of making me feel like I can treat my body however I want - makes me want to take care of myself.

I sound like I'm 50. How weird.

And how not-surprising. It isn't the first time.