Politics as Usual, Or?

I’ve now both read Obama’s entire speech on racism in America today and watched it, and, boy, I like this guy, man. I like him a lot. I think he’s the politician I’ve waited a lifetime for. I don’t think anyone could run on a platform of complete change and not achieve any. I don’t think you can articulate what’s so wrong with a country today and not have had ideas for a lifetime on what to do to fix them if a chance ever comes.

I have, for a while now, believed that Obama is, in some respects, a master manipulator, but I believe he does it for the right reasons — to make himself a viable candidate. By not polarizing people too greatly earlier in his career, he can stomp his feet a little louder now and achieve more through it.

He’s far from perfect and I have no illusions, but you gotta understand where I’m coming from.

I never pursued my journalism career for any number of reasons, but mostly because of what Stevie Cameron said to me over drinks after a conference she spoke at. (And I mean “said to me”, it was a private chat.) Stevie Cameron’s the journalist who exposed Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to be a duplicitous thieving hack back in the day and blew open the Airbus scandal. She’s up there with Barbara Frum when it comes to awesome female Canadian journalists, man.

So, she says to me I seem like a nice kid (I was 22). She had recently quit the mainstream political journalism beat and was now editing a women’s lifestyle magazine instead. She began to speak about how a career in journalism means committing to a life of finding fault in everything and everyone. It’s about finding problems and covering tragedies and wars and more often reporting on the worst of mankind than the best of it.

And I mentioned how I wanted to be the kind of old-school journalist that lasts out the ages, you know? Mencken, Murrow. Men of meaning and agenda. I wanted to call the world on what was going wrong, point it out, and be a part of the change that ensues. I was then and am now the sort of journalist that believes neutrality is overrated. I’m objective, not neutral. Then, I was an idealist, totally. I wanted to help change the world.

So she says, “And when it doesn’t change on your watch? What then?”

She pointed out the rates of addiction and alcoholism amongst the journalists she knew, and said that was often “what then”, so if change was my mandate, I should be prepared for stagnation and cycnicism.

Wasn’t the most heartwarming bit of encouragement I’ve ever received, no.

And I thought about it. I knew the writer I wanted to be, the kinds of things I wanted to do, but what if I fell short and I was some chick on a beat in the city, constantly exposed to the same shit all the time, never seeing change… who would I become then? Would I like myself? Would I like my life? Or, would I, as I suspect, feel vapid and empty inside?

Ironically, I’ve yet to become that writer I wanted to be, but I guess I’m working towards it.

When it came to shaping the writer I am, I was a huge Hunter Thompson fan, early Hunter, you know. Sharp as a tack politically. Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 stands as one of the best political books last century. Hell, he was the only writer on the campaign to call every single primary in the ’72 election, nailed ’em all. Whatever that tells you about his political skills, it should really tell you how well he knew his country.

He loved America but hated what was happening to it. Thompson, more than anyone alive, wanted to believe the American Dream. He spent his life waiting for the next voice that would cry out that a change would be a-comin’. He wanted to believe that someone else not only believed in the American Dream but would fight for it with the fight it deserved.

And Carter tried, but pretty much failed, but beyond Carter, that change never did materialize. Clinton looked like the next great white hope, but that ended in a disaster of cigars, blue dresses, and denials. More business as usual, more corruption, more disappointment.

The greatest tragedy of this race to lead the Democrats is that, man, Hunter woulda loved this one. God, how I wish he hadn’t put a bullet in his head that February day two years ago. I suspect he figured “Superbowl’s over, and Bush has two fuckin’ years to go, AND it’s February. Fuck, I’m done.” Pow. Tragic.

And here comes this guy who says America’s really, really broke, but if we all pull together, we can fix it again. He’s preaching change. He’s raising money on the web, running a clean campaign, chanting words like “we can” and “change”.

Business as usual ain’t going to fix America. Voting outside the box, though, just might. Obama ain’t perfect, but he’s different enough to be promising.

…And in a life filled with business as usual and disappointing politicians, I’m being given a few short months to believe that, yeah, maybe things can be different after all. I’m enjoying it. If he wins, it’d be incredible to see an optimistic America again. I don’t think Americans realize that the America of the American Dream is the nation the rest of the world really does long to see. We wanna see a country with its “best” at its forefront. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen that. America was built on dreams… having a few more right now certainly might not hurt.

I don’t think I’m an idealist to believe in a platform of change. I think of myself as a realist… I know we have it in us to have a better world. I prefer to believe in that part of us that finds cures for diseases, sends men to the moon, and creates global vehicles like the internet to unite us all through the miles that would appear to separate us. I believe that everything great about who we are, the world we have, and the people we can be all begins with a single dream by a single person at a moment in time.

If we waited for perfect people and perfect opportunities, we’d never achieve anything. Instead, we look for the best people of those available and the best opportunity that avails itself to us; that is how success is found and had.

So I’m going to go on the record here and now that it’s Obama I want on Pennsylvania Avenue.

(And here’s hoping that his comments on racism will do what Hurricane Katrina almost did, but failed to do: ignite a real, meaningful discussion of what’s wrong between the races in the United States today. It’s a problem we see very clearly up here in Canada, something that is very much a difference between our nations… our inner cities are racially blended. Sure, there’s poverty, but it gets spread around more. In the US, the colour blocks are a startling thing to behold, and something I would love to see changed in my lifetime. But it’s a huge topic for another time.)