Thursday, January 03, 2008

Two very different views of Deliverance

[not a reference to the 1972 film Deliverance, starring Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds]

I'm watching MSNBC's coverage of the Iowa caucus, with Chris Matthews (whom I do not call "Tweety") giving a very good summation of the rut in which America finds itself, and comparing this rut to the beginning of the Great Depression.

[The choice of FDR over Hoover in 1932] wasn't an improvement, it wasn't finding somebody smarter than the guy we have in office, it was taking us out of the rut and taking us to a new place. The Biblical term for it, since we're in a Biblical era, is Deliverance. We're being picked up and moved to where we have to be. — Chris Matthews on MSNBC
As he also pointed out, there will be two prominent headlines on newspapers around the world tomorrow: "Obama Wins" and "Hillary Loses." I think Chris Matthews is right that Obama represents Deliverance on the Democratic side, and I think that Huckabee represents the Republican vision of Deliverance. Which vision can capture a clear and convincing majority of the American people?

The gridlock in Congress, with almost all Democratic efforts failing in the face of an unbreakable filibustering minority of Republicans, has resulted in inaction on issues of climate change, energy, Social Security and Medicare reform, the Iraq war, and foreign policy. In a meta-sense, the American people have to decide between picking one side decisively or continuing the near-50-50 paralysis. I'll take a look, with candid and obvious bias, at the two visions for breaking with the Bush legacy.

Mike Huckabee represents a return to the "Traditional American Values." In the stereotype of the 1950's, à la Pleasantville, those Values included second-class treatment for women, passive acceptance of racial inequity, homophobia, and a basically insular view of the U.S. role in the world. What happened in Kuala Lumpur or Nairobi or Caracas was of no particular interest, unless you worked in an industry with a particular connection to that region. Men were men, women were women, no one was ambiguously in between, boys were circumcised, pregnancy led to a shotgun wedding or a life of shame, marriage was an eternal bond shackling one submissive woman to one dominant male, and the rest of the world should do as we say, because clearly God has blessed America and therefore we must be doing everything exactly as He intended, and of course America was a Christian nation — it was silly even to ask. Mike Huckabee softens the edges quite a bit on several of those bullet points, but the core direction is the same.

Mike Huckabee aims to convince the solid majority of Americans who believe that a woman has a right to follow her own conscience in deciding whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, that abortion should be banned in the U.S. Constitution. He couches it as an aspiration rather than a promise, but he says it's what he believes God holds in His Divine Will for the future of this country. He puts a "compassionate" smile on his face saying it, but he believes that two men or two women in a committed, loving relationship have no right whatsoever to any governmental recognition of the intertwining of their lives. He wants us out of Iraq, but he also believes that his years as a Baptist preacher have prepared him to take on the challenge of Islamic extremism. He believes that the same "aw shucks" folksiness that has swept him from Hope, Arkansas, to the national level, will work just as well on a global stage.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, represents a leap into the future. You could picture a President Barack Obama one day announcing the project to build a research station on the moon, if you know what I mean. Obama stands for the teaching of the science of evolution in science classes. He stands for a woman's right to choose whether to complete a pregnancy — and the right of two adults to choose to marry. He has lived a significant portion of his life outside the United States, seeing how it is perceived as a nation from the outside. Hillary Clinton scoffed at the notion that merely living abroad was in and of itself a qualification for being President, but I say it openly and directly. Christian extremism will no more protect us from Islamic extremism than vice-versa. The answer to extremism — Islamic, Christian, Republican, Communist, or White Supremacist — is embracing (not merely tolerating) diversity. In an era in which 19 men with half a million dollars were able to strike a stunning blow against the greatest military power in human history, military power is not the answer. The United States must dry up the reservoir of potential terrorist recruits by becoming popular, because only when the overwhelming majority of the people of the world see us as "the good guys" will we ever overcome a determined minority who despise us to the core of their being.

Around the world — even in Chris Matthews' favorite: Rangoon [Yangon], Burma [Myanmar] — the United States has taken a striking step by advancing the candidacy of an American who is a citizen of the world, not just of the United States. It is Barack Hussein Obama who represents the vision of Deliverance from the world of Al Qaeda, Taliban, Tamil, and I.R.A. It is Barack Obama who shines the beacon of Hope around the world. It is Barack Obama whom I want to see as the next President of the United States.

[This article also appeared in my DailyKos diary.]

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