Honor of Politics and Politics of Honor
Why Barack Obama's Time Is Now
By Edward Shanahan
Election 2008. The sense of anticipation is so acute it’s almost painful.
The run-up has been so long, the debates so many, the news coverage so comprehensive (and sometimes trivia), the cable television commentary endless and ultimately so boring. When do we get some relief? When do we get some closure, a final verdict?
Soon, soon, I pray. Ann thinks it may not be over until about 3 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 5. Perhaps, unless there are some paper ballot precincts in Ohio that still remain to be counted, recounted or even stolen. We’ve been there before. Who can say with certainty?
And, of course, we consumers of news are whipsawed by other minor irritations, the sudden collapse of capitalism, the looting of Fort Knox, and the Made in America wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which continue open-ended, but which now are merely a footnote in the current political debates.
Still, I have my money on Barack Obama.
I’m old enough to have voted for president 12 times and I can recall only a single vote that has meant as much to me as the one coming up, and that was the one in 1960. I was young and so was John Kennedy, and in some ways so, too, was the country, before a horrible string of assassinations of public figures – JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, John Lennon - became commonplace. The politics of the country turned ugly – urban riots, the Vietnam humiliation and the Nixon White House and Watergate.
Chief casualties from this wrenching period were personal idealism and national innocence.
Reporters are not supposed to become engaged in the political process, but for a brief time in 1966 I made a U-turn and went to work for Paul H. Douglas, long-time senator from Illinois and a proud liberal. I traveled with him every day in the final months of his losing campaign, and came to believe and admire him for his unyielding position that politics is an honorable profession, if honorably conceived.
Over time, my own views became more cynical—that politics was about private gain, not public good, that the political system had become rigged against government engaging in good works or performing that work well.
Which brings us back to Barack Obama, another senator from Illinois. And what his election as president would mean for the country and its sense of national self-worth, purpose, and let’s admit it, idealism.
That is why he is tapping into the aspirations of young, previously unregistered voters in this country. They are energized, and that energy has fired up many of the rest of us, who once long ago bought into the idea that electing a smart, articulate, optimistic and, happily, young person we could change the direction of this country once again.
He has shown that he can inspire, not only by his spoken and written words, but by the example of his life, from his beginning as the offspring of a mixed marriage, raised by white grandparents, educated at the finest schools, and then working as an organizer on the streets of Chicago. It appears he then bought into the Douglas mantra about the honorable challenges that he could address in elected office.
And so, Obama stands before us as someone out of the ordinary, but more than a little familiar about the hard work that is required under all conditions and in every circumstance. His success is not a legacy, but his alone to claim.
Rare bird, Rare opportunity. And a rare moment in time.
If Barack Obama, a true African-American by birth, does not make it, given his intelligence, credentials, his vision, and above all his steadfast, even steely, nature, it could be generations before we see his like again.
Maybe it’s a matter of personal selfishness, but I can’t wait for Nov.4, because I certainly can’t wait around for another generation or two for another Barack Obama to come on the scene.
His time is now, and our time is, as well.
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