Monday, February 25, 2008

I'm Not Black. I'm Not White. And Neither Are You.
These are interesting times—whether living in them is a curse or boon is ultimately going to hinge upon whether we’re willing to shed our tribal instincts and cultural preconceptions in favor of redefining ourselves in a new century.

The American presidential campaign and the requisite coverage of it mirror those preconceptions and fears. Is Obama black enough? Is McCain young enough? Is Clinton woman (or man) enough? You have to take those questions, and their inevitable follow-ups, as rhetorical at best. They’re the political equivalent of a tabloid headline, and do nothing but divert our attention from the issues that are relevant to the future of not only America, but to the entire globe.

I’m not knocking rhetoric—it’s woven into the fabric of American history. From “Give me liberty, or give me death” to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” to “I have a dream” to “Yes we can”, well-timed phrases galvanize us to action. But like any power, in the wrong hands, rhetoric becomes insidious, inspiring our basest emotions of fear and hatred. Unwisely used, rhetoric destroys its practitioners and followers.

In the current US presidential campaign, rhetoric has become the bogeyman, cited as the evil destroying legitimate debate, except when those citing it use the very tool they rile against to further their own agendas. It’s always been like that, of course, but in our YouTube universe, the wrong nuance at the wrong instant can be used as leverage against the other side. That’s all well and fine, but eventually we have to step gingerly through the minefields the candidates and the pundits have set before us. We have to decide: do we really want a new future for America, or are we content to wallow in the muck of a failed past?

We in America tout our diversity as our greatest strength, and well we should. It’s also undeniable that we’ve committed some unforgivable errors along the way. No amount of reparations or apologies will erase those stains. And no amount of ancestral outrage is going to advance us further up the evolutionary scale. What will save us, if anything, is a rationed approach to unifying America.

Only one presidential candidate has risen to that challenge. Barack Obama is no stranger to the power of rhetoric, but he is the only presidential candidate who infuses it with an aura of genuine integrity. He’s shown that he’s willing to cross party lines to get results, but he’s also proven that he has the gumption to not back away from a principle in which he believes. Time and again, he’s substantively demonstrated his message of hope is a concrete one that transcends racial, social and all but most the extreme political factions.

This may very well be one the most important presidential elections in American history. The country is poised precariously at a crossroads that may chart its course for generations. The question becomes, will America continue to be a heart in conflict with itself, or will the US return to its roots, and become united once again? We can no longer afford to look at ourselves as black, white, brown or yellow, or define ourselves along ideological lines—we have to once again be the United States of America.

Barack Obama is the candidate most qualified to inspire us to achieve that goal. Agree with him or not on specific issues, he articulates his views in such a way that you have to admire him. More importantly, he leaves his viewpoints open to some degree of internal debate. And that’s something we haven’t seen in a long time.