Why I Support Barack Obama and Joe Biden

Every negative has a positive: In my previous post, I explained the negative: Why I won’t vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Now for the positive: I support Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Here’s why.

I am a middle-age (55), white, middle-class woman. And there’s one thing I know for certain: The future does not belong to me. There’s no big shock there in that realization, I might add. When people land at the half-century mark, reality hits, because to turn fifty is to experience one’s mortality. The future no longer seems infinite, the way it did back when I was, say, thirty or forty. I hasten to add that I don’t feel “old” and I’ve certainly not given up on life. Far from it. I am fit and reasonably healthy and ready to tackle whatever life brings in whatever time I have left. But the future is not mine anymore.

Here’s another reality: The planet has changed in the past ten or fifteen years, and has done so with breath-taking speed. You know what I mean: Electronic media have changed the way human beings interact and communicate. Economies and cultures once separated by vast physical distance are inextricably interwoven. Long-standing political alliances have unraveled, morphing into new ones that would not have existed fifty years ago. Attitudes toward the United States have changed, and not necessarily for the better

. I could go on. You get the drift.

So what has the one — my age — got to do with the other — the pace of change? And what have both got to do with Barack Obama?

This: We Americans are racing toward End Game. We’ve been rolling toward it for thirty years. We’ve had warning after warning about political turmoil in various parts of the world. Warning after warning about our dependence on oil, about climatic disruption, about our addiction to debt and affluence. In my opinion as a historian, we’ve run out of time. We can’t keep dodging our self-inflicted bullets. At the rate we’re going, in fifty years we will be a third-rate nation.

(Think I’m wrong? The Brits thought they were invincible, too. In the space of about 30 years, they slipped from Masters of the Universe to Also-Rans.) (Absolutely no offense intended to my son-in-law or my several very dear British friends.)

Okay, so mistakes were made. The question is: What are we doing to do about it? Look backward to the “good old days” of the Cold War and Ronald Reagan? Or look to the present and the future, neither of which bear any resemblance to those “old days.”

Put simply, this isn’t the time for old people like me to be running the show. It’s time to turn it over to people who grew up in a multi-culture, multi-racial, post-cold-war, television- and computer-based world. People who understand that what happens in Beijing and Bangalore matters as much as what happens in Washington and on Wall Street. People like Barack Obama, who are willing to challenge “the way things are done,” and who envision a future that does not depend on the past.

Here’s a small but telling example of Obama’s willingness to look forward instead of backward: He and his advisers planned a campaign strategy around fifty states, rather than just a handful of “blue” states. [That plan was first proposed by Howard Dean while he was chair of the Democratic Party.] As a result, he’s now running even with, and in a few cases ahead of, McCain in states that are supposed to “belong” to the Republicans.

Consider Virginia. Democrats wrote that state off decades ago. “We can’t win in Virginia,” they said, “so let’s not waste any time or money there.” Never mind that the demographic makeup up Virginia had changed dramatically in the past half century. Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore didn’t bother. They assumed that the past was a good predictor of the future.

Obama rejected that assumption. Instead, he decided to find out for himself just how “red” Virginia was. Turns out it’s a healthy shade of purple — so he has spent time and money there reaching out to a new generation of voters who’d been written off by Democrats in earlier races.

Again, that’s a small example, but it’s indicative of Obama’s willingness to challenge assumptions, to think in new ways, to imagine a future that is different from the past.

John McCain’s vision of the future, on the other hand, is rooted in past mistakes and old idealogies. That was evident in the first presidential debate, when he constantly and insistently referenced the past rather than the present or the future. Indeed, as I watched that first debate I wondered what people under the age of, say, 35 made of McCain. How many of those younger viewers knew who Gorbachev is? Or Kissinger or Eisenhower? For that matter, how many knew who Ronald Reagan was?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a historian. My mission is to persuade Americans that history is relevant. I don’t plan to abandon my mission. But as a historian, I believe that the past is different from the present.

And if that’s true, then it follows that the future can be different from — and better than — the present.

Barack Obama is the person to lead us into a future that we must — WE MUST — shape before it destroys us all.

I also support Barack Obama for another reason: Because I understand the power of hope. Yes, I know that many people reject Obama’s calls for hope and his message of “yes, we can.” Many people believe that those words are naive or, worse, empty rhetoric.

Not me. I understand the power of hope deep in my gut. I am living proof of hope’s power. Over and over and over again in my 55 years, I’ve changed the course of my life; I’ve dug deep and reached high. I’ve used hope to conquer despair. Even now, at middle-age, I believe in the transformative power of hope. I believe the future can be different than the past or present.

I don’t believe in hope because Obama asked me to. I believe in Obama because I believe in hope.

I hope you do, too.

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