Thursday, January 10, 2008

Campaigns and Such

Barack Obama reminds me of a girl who ran for student council to represent our class as we moved from fifth grade and onto the middle school. Kara, with her rose petal ribbed turtleneck and Jennifer Aniston-inspired haircut, was a tour-de-force at 11 years old. Her look was embued with sophistication—middle school sophistication. She looked like our future; she was our future.

In her two-minute speech, Kara promised to eliminate the inefficient transportation system. Instead of buses, everyone would ride to school in hot air balloons. Sub-par meals of square pizza and hot turkey specials would be cut. Our lunch ladies would prepare us ice cream and popcorn every day. When her speech ended, two hundred Lebanon Intermediate School fifth graders erupted with applause and cheers. The effect of Kara's speech clearly left the remaining candidates quaking. Hastily, each following candidate endorsed Kara's ideas and promised other Great Ideals—elephants at recess, more hot air balloons. But it was Kara, the archetype, who captured the fifth grade electorate's hearts.

After we each checked two names out a list of hopefuls on a half-sheet of paper, the cafatorium (yes, cafatorium.) murmured quietly with excitement as we fell into single file to return to our classes. "I hope my hot air balloon is pink!" "Maybe there will be caramel popcorn too!" By the end of the day, our principal announced the two winners over the intercom. In a landslide, Kara had claimed the senior position.

June arrived, and school let out. Three months passed, and by the time Kara arrived for her first student council meeting as a sixth grade representative, her starry-eyed ideals had been forgotten in the haze of summer. As student council meetings gathered in the middle school's auditorium, Kara perched with the "popular" crowd, using her opportunity to bring popcorn to the lunch room instead to propel her social life as a sixth-grader forward.

I am not blaming Kara for her rise and fall in the world of middle school politics. (She opted not to run for reelection.) But I can't help but notice some similarities between her campaign and that of Barack Obama.

The notions of change and unity that Obama delivers in his spine-tingling speeches are, I agree, inspiring. The man has a way with words (words like "No more school buses!" come to mind) that dazzle the general populace—if only because they're left scratching their heads while simultaneously slapping their hands together in applause.

Take, for example, the AP Newswire's campaign quote of the day: " In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope."

The "unlikely story?" Seriously? How is America any less likely than any other nation? And as far as I am concerned, hope isn't false where it's reasonable. But Obama's theories about how, "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America," are beyond quixotic. They're dangerous.

Should Obama receive the nomination, riding on this wave of idealism, I do not see how he can deliver on his promises of unity. Whatever good he achieves in four years—and I do believe he could achieve good—will be annulled in the wake of a vicious Republican campaign in 2011, pointing out how Obama's pie crust promises of unity crumbled and the real America lies with the conservative party. (I'm shuddering already.)

What's more, isn't the essence of our country our disagreements? The United States of America have never been been perfectly united, never been a mass of common-minded entities. The essence of this country is our differences. And really, shouldn't we have more? The disparity between the pro-life Dixie boy with a Bible in his hand and the African-American lesbian from Queens cannot be resolved in the first term of even the most inspiring of presidents.

Tenuous harmony has embodied this nation from its fragile beginnings. To elect a Don Quixote president whose only campaign pitch turns the essence of this country on its head and promises to change it would be a folly—one that would open the doors of the Oval Office to a Republican candidate another four years down the road.

Don't believe me? Try an I'm Feeling Lucky Google search for "starry-eyed idealist." I promise it's not Kara who comes up.

(Full disclaimer: I am not anti-Obama. I only hope that if his campaign continues as it is now, he stops circumlocuting on ideals and constructs some more concrete ideas about how to improve this country beyond "uniting" it.)

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