Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Obamania in the air

Here's what I know: Rudy Giuliani will not be the next president of the United States. Neither will Mike Huckabee. Nor will Mitt Romney.

You can forget John Edwards, too. And what's-his-name . . . the guy that no one pays attention to with all the crazy ideas? RuPaul? Or is it Ron Paul?

Whichever . . . he won't be the next president either.

So . . . now we know it will come down to whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will face John McCain in the November general election. I didn't think McCain would pull it off, and with some tough months ahead there is still no guarantee he will defeat Mitt Romney -- although his win tonight in Florida certainly helped his cause immensely. Months ago, I thought I had some special insight into this election. I thought McCain would tank, but he's persevered, largely because the Republican field is so weak. Really, Mike Huckabee as a serious presidential candidate? Jenny Craig spokesman, yes, absolutely. He'd be perfect. But president? C'mon. Yet, just three weeks ago, the deep thinkers in the Washington political-media complex were ready to place their children's college tuition on Huckabee to make a serious presidential run. That comet has crashed.

Then again, what do I know?

All eyes now, of course, are on the Hillary-Obama fight, and a fight it will be for the next several weeks, maybe even months. I still think nominating Hillary is a suicide pact for the Democrats. If she managed to win the general election, she'll start work with 49% of the country already at war with her and her husband. And then there are people like me who will not vote for her in the primaries or in the general election. Does that mean I would vote for McCain? No way. Any of the other Republicans? Not a chance. So what will I do?

I won't vote. Really. You can tell me that not voting is irrational, that by not voting I'm helping McCain, that I'm helping the Republican party . . . that I'm a Communist or a terrorist or a baby or all of the above. And you might be right. But I just cannot vote for Hillary Clinton. The attack politics of the last week aside, the tin ear that refuses to acknowledge how offensive so many people found her and her husband's behavior towards Obama and her absolute unwillingness to stake out a firm position on anything that hasn't been poll-tested or pre-approved, I do not find her a leader that inspires. Perhaps because I am not a woman I cannot get as excited about the Helen Reddy-like, "I am woman hear me roar" element of her candidacy.

Contrast that with the electric environment that surrounded Barack Obama's appearance at American University Monday morning. I have taught at American since 1990, and I have never seen Bender arena full for anything (although I must confess I'm not there very much unless it is to use the gym. I can guarantee you that no one is waiting in line for hours to watch me grunt through a workout), much less that full of life and energy. "Charisma" is a word used a great deal to describe Obama's appeal, but I think that shortchanges where he is coming from. Trim and youthful at 46 -- more so than me at the same age, I might add -- he does not possess the leading man looks that usually go hand in hand with charisma, or the ease in glad-handing audiences that came so easy to Bill Clinton. What sets Obama apart from Hillary and the rest of the candidates regardless of their political affiliation is his ability, through his oratory and sincerity, to connect with people of any background. For someone like me who grew up at the precipice of the civil rights era, walking into a room, even in January 2008, and see it colored by a multi-racial, multi-ethnic hue brimming with energy around a united cause is still a very big deal. Barack Obama generates excitement and inspires people to give a damn -- young people, old people, poor people and not-so-poor people, white folks, African-Americans, Latinos and others who increasingly make up the American ethnic mosaic. If Obama was just some lightweight or dilettante who viewed the presidency as the crowning achievement on his resume of accomplishment and ambition, I could understand the Clintons' effort to portray Obama as such. But that's not who Obama is. He is as "qualified" as Hillary or any of the other Republican candidates to hold the office. What, really, "qualifies" you to serve as president? Six terms as governor of a small Southern state? No foreign policy experience? In other words, Bill Clinton's political experience before he ran for president in 1992?

The Clintons' pointed and awkward criticism of Obama and their "no big deal" response to the Kennedys' embrace of Obama -- an endorsement they unsuccessfully fought to secure -- are admissions of what has been evident since Iowa: that Obama is the real deal, that Hillary is a soulless, empty suit determined to take her turn to rule and that the establishment Democrats that lined up behind Clinton II have the fight of their lives ahead of them. Let the pundits and Washington political-media complex debate all they want about which Democratic candidate will reach 24-28 year-old voters with cars more than 5 years old, plasma televisions less than 3 years old who hold graduate degrees from private universities with selective Ph.D programs in sociology. What the nation saw on Monday was a small slice of the hunger that many Americans disaffected by the Bush years are looking for. And to me, that is the choice for Democrats in this election: a chance for inspiration and a politics that goes beyond the acquisition and exercise of power for the sake of doing so or to return to a style of governing that emphasizes ego and certitude above everything else.

UPDATE: Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards have both dropped out of the presidential race.

1 comment:

Madeline said...

Hey Professor--

I AM a woman, and the "I am woman, hear me roar" doesn't resonate with me either- as much as I wished it would. Just don't think she's the RIGHT woman-- I always have thought it would be cool to elect a woman president, but I can't give her my primary vote for all the reasons you mentioned. Guess I'll just have to run myself in a few years.