REASON 49: Obama still has some respect for the truth
American democracy is a work in progress, a battle-royale of opposing ideals and interests. The concept of ‘We the People’ has been redefined and expanded several times, regionalism and Federalism have been invoked for principle and for profit, and big money has always swayed, if not totally controlled, those in office. With the advent of mass media and expensively-produced advertising, democracy has been co-opted as a symbolic commodity—something we voters congratulate ourselves on possessing even when it is obvious the candidates we are offered are the spawn of a less-than-democratic process. Corporations have been anointed responsibility by the Supreme Court as both eligible of public subsidy and free of and, like all large and unrestrained creatures, act only in their own self-interest.
In this scenario, why vote and why vote for Barack Obama?
I think many of the people who voted for him the last time expected him to drive the money-changers from the temple, to use the Imperial Presidency developed by many of his predecessors, Democrat and Republican, to build a populist social state. He hasn’t. He also hasn’t gotten us into a war based on a fundamentalist, economic ideology (that enriched only his cadre) or drowned the government Americans have struggled and died for for centuries in a bathtub. Though there are times that I catch in the tone of his voice a disillusionment with the American public equal to our disillusionment with him and his fellow politicians, there is evidence that he actually believes in democracy, or at least its potential. He understands that politicians can only act as well as we the people force them to. He’s had no shock-and-awe situation like the Great Depression to clear his way to the acceptance of radical programs or autocratic decrees (however populist they might be) and has had to grind out his agenda in an openly hostile Congress with some notably lackluster support from his own party. Though not having a broad mandate has never stopped the Republicans when they’ve held the White House, Obama has tried to do it the hard way and had only moderate success. He is, incredibly, perhaps less cynical than the rest of us.
Idealists, of course, can cause just as much trouble as cynics—the Crusades, the Inquisition, almost any ethnic slaughter in history had its share of sincere believers spilling blood—but the thing he seems to believe in is as complex and possibly unattainable as democracy. People with different ideas coming to enough of a consensus to act together to make their lives better. On the other side, symbolism and fear-mongering, and at the heart of it, the belief that the common man (not white, not truly American, not Christian enough) cannot be trusted, is immoral, irresponsible, lacking in judgment and self-discipline. Prisons must be built, fundamentalist mores must be made law, the rich—obviously superior by proof of their wealth—should lead the way. It has become a cultural, almost religious stance. The effort to disenfranchise voters throughout the country is not only a demographic ploy but a basic philosophy.
I do believe that life will be harder for more Americans with Mitt Romney and his cohort in power than with Obama, but that will mostly be a case of damage avoided than any sweeping legislative reforms the Democrats might be able to (or want to) enact. My basic reason to vote and to vote for Obama has to do with the evidence that he still has some respect for the truth and, after four tough years buffeted by its frustrations and imperfections, a basic desire to bring us closer to the ideal of democracy. Which is worth a walk down the block to push some computer buttons.
Stanfordville, New York