How many words has Barack Obama spoken during this campaign? Hundreds of thousands? Yet we obsess over 25 words that he recently uttered about Americans’ bitterness with the way their government has let them down. And we act as if his entire essence is determined by these 25 words alone.
And then when he tries to explain, we turn a deaf ear to those new words. He said it and there is nothing else we need to know; there is no room for reconciliation.
Is that how you act in your own life when someone says something hurtful or offensive to you? Do you denounce, reject, and disassociate yourself? Or do you try to understand and work things out?
Is it any wonder that candidates develop bullet-proof, gotcha-proof, sanitized answers that they relentlessly repeat even if it doesn’t apply to the question? And then we criticize them for being evasive.
We want our candidates to be active and involved in their communities, to demonstrate that they understand what our lives are like. Yet when that effort puts them in contact with someone with an objectionable past (Ayers) or present (Rezko), we immediately denounce and reject them for their failure to denounce and reject these associations.
Is this the country we want? Where a candidate can not associate with anyone with views that lie outside the mainstream? I’m sure Senator Obama has developed thousands of associations in his life. Must he have each one vetted before he is allowed to work with them towards a common goal? If 5 or 10 or 50 of them have histories that most of us find objectionable, do we then conclude that that represents the essence of the candidate? What are we to make of the thousands of acceptable associations he has? Ignore them? Where is the balance and fairness in our judgment?
And if we want to know how he thinks or how he might act when he is President, why don’t we just listen to his words, review his policy proposals and his voting history, consider the range and type of people who endorse him, and look at the quality and efficiency of the campaign he is running?
Those are all pretty good indicators. But not if we cherry-pick and look for 1 or 2 or 10 instances of something objectionable in this vast body of information, and use that to discredit him.
If we place these kinds of demands on our candidates, we drive them further and further away from us. Our demand for perfection guarantees that we will see them as imperfect and become disappointed and angry with them. We make them fearful of speaking openly and honestly to us, retreating instead into slogans and zingers. Is that what we want?
Whether you agree with his politics or not, Barack Obama has risked his campaign on the belief that we can handle the truth and that we deserve to be treated like adults. For this alone, he deserves our gratitude and respect, as well as our votes.