Three observations about politics from my limitted perspective...
As those who read this page know, I make no apologies for being a deeply patriotic (though not jingoist) American. Like Langston Hughes, I want America to BE America again - the land of promise and integrity, not torture, arrogance and fear - so I am deeply concerned about this election. I am not a Leninist who believes that people will "get it" if things just get bad enough. I know real people who are frightened about the future, uncertain about how they will pay their oil/heating bills this winter in the NE and confused about how to live into the 21st century. I know and love people who are both active and committed Democrats and thoughtful, committed Republicans - I have some of both in my own family.
Most Americans agree that the last 8 years have been a disaster - polling shows that W has a less than 30% approval rate - and anxiety is palpable. What is not yet clear is what we should do about all of this as the election unfolds. To date, I have drawn three observations about the political process so far:
+First, the Democrats are trying very hard to clearly identify themselves as realistic populists who know how to fix the problems of the poor and working class; at the same time, the Republicans, who must distance themselves from the current administration, are intentionally short on details and long on the personal biographies of their candidates. Both Obama and Biden spoke at length - as did the Clintons - about the specifics they would bring to the table to repair what is broken in American society. (For a careful analysis of the Democratic economic program see The NY Times Magazine of August 23, 2008) Curiously, instead of specifics, both Fred Thompson and Senator Lieberman emphasized the character of McCain. As the Republican commentator, David Brooks, noted after tonight's speeches: the Republicans criticized the Democrats for a lack of specificity during the primaries but now must avoid any connection with the specifics of the current administration lest they become tarnished. In a word, the Republicans have ONLY the character of their candidates to rely upon because the current specific policies of the Bush administration are such a disaster. There will be two very different stories told as this campaign unfolds.
+ Second, the Vice-Presidential selections of both Obama and McCain are very energizing to each of their respective bases but do little to inspire independents and new voters. Perhaps it is overstated to say that the selection of Sarah Palin gave McCain street cred with the Religious Right - but not much. She has real juice, energy and savvy that has provided his campaign with a whole lot of energy but the buzz on the street is that she doesn't have the gravitas to be a heartbeat away from the most powerful job in the world. Again, see David Brooks' observations in the NY Times of September 2nd where he notes that while Palin is much like McCain - a crusader - "she underlies McCain's strength without compensating for his weaknesses... so the real second fiddle job is still unfilled." Obama and Biden, on the other hand, have clearly satisfied the critique re: experience with Biden - his role as a fighter in the Senate is beyond reproach - but he doesn't do much for younger voters who see the old man as a throw back to "politics as usual." Biden brings the traditional blue collar base closer to Obama and Palin gives McCain legs for the social conservatives... but is either enough? I am fascinated by McCain's moxy... and troubled, too. As sociologists, Earl and Merle Black observed this week on Bill Moyer's show this election has already been decided in the NE and California for Obama and the South and Midwest for McCain: what is at play is about 20% of the electorate in potential swing states who want to see things CHANGE! Will these VP selections help or hurt? (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/08292008/watch.html)
+ And third, both teams still seem to be wrestling with the paradox of change: what changes do we really want and need at this moment in time? Is America in need of dramatic health care reform? To be sure. Is there uncertainty about whether the middle class can hold on let alone grow stronger into the next decade? Without a doubt? Do most citizens want this insane war drawn down responsibly? Beyond any question. At the same time, and here is the dilemma, Americans also seem to want to end the culture wars without learning to compromise. And on this front it seems to me that Obama has taken a bold step forward in trying to invite people towards middle ground. Both Thompson and Lieberman spoke in polarizing ways even as they tried to invite their opponents into their camp. Yes, Obama challenged McCain directly on a host of issues - it was his job to clarify, yes? - but he also spoke of finding middle ground on issues that have been a part of the culture wars of the last 25 years - and for this I believe he advances the cause. It will truly be interesting to see which Americans want more: building trust through cooperation or getting their own way because in this case it really can't be a both/and decison, only either/or.
I make these observations as clearly and fairly as I know how because the stakes are so great. I have respect for all the candidates - they all have overcome dramatic challenges in thier personal and public lives - and they all love God and country equally. What concerns me is how do we move forward with our deepest and most abiding values of faith, hope and love?