At this point in the 2008 election – spring of 2007 – I find that there is one underlying question on the minds of many people: why now?
Why are you so interested in the 2008 election now? What difference does it make who is ahead in the polls at this point? The race will look so different in two years, why bother paying so much attention at this moment?
The fact is that the 2008 presidential election is our next great national moment of truth. It is when we as a people make a decision about what we as citizens value most and what
America as a nation represents to the world. It is the occasion in which we declare to ourselves, to the world, and to future generations how we plan to live up to the ideals of liberty and equality in our own time.
Of course, all elections are significant in that sense. Yet, what distinguishes 2008 from other elections is the scope of our national challenges and the magnitude of our national potential. Our world has grown uncertain and disheartening in recent years. In many ways, we have come to know the world and our nation at its worst. The election of 2008 is, at its most basic level, an expression of national belief: we can express belief in the world as it is or belief in a better way.
The 2008 election is, in other words, our next defining moment, and it will establish the tone of an entire generation. If we believe that 2008 is our defining moment, than we have to believe that 2007 is our teachable moment.
We must immediately begin to eradicate those national habits and hang-ups that deprive us all of achieving a better way. Now is the time to open ourselves to the crucial lessons before us. And the primary lesson we urgently need to take to heart is that we in this country desperately need a new type of politics. We simply have no choice.
The culture wars have crippled our ability to seek a common good as a people. In many ways, we do not even share a functional language by which to work together. Key words and phrases have become so disassociated from their actual meaning, so perverted according to partisanship in their usage, that they are rendered meaningless. Take ‘values’ or ‘elite’ for example. At this point is goes without saying which party is conceived of as the party of values and which as the party of the elite. While such shorthand is easy and sets a reliable framework for cable news personalities to fill airtime, the truth is that such tags are inaccurate and breed negative social results.
The culture wars are in fact ruining the culture. Only by working now, in 2007, to end them will we be prepared to meet the opportunity of 2008. What is needed now more than ever is not a culture warrior, but a peacemaker – an alternative leader of an alternative disposition with an alternative approach.
Only Obama both articulates the lesson to be learned and points in the direction of a better way. He says, “Whether we’re from red states or blue states, we feel in our gut the lack of honesty, rigor, and common sense in our policy debates, and dislike what appears to be a continuous menu of false or cramped choices.” His warning is simple and in it, we find the lesson to be taken to heart immediately. “If we don’t change course soon, we may be the first generation in a very long time that leaves behind a weaker and more fractured America than the one we inherited. Perhaps more than any other time in our recent history, we need a new kind of politics, one that can excavate and build upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans.”
I think Americans of all lifestyles and philosophies believe we can do better as a people. We can bridge the divide that separates us from one another. We can make greater advances to make our inherited ideals commensurate with the world we create. These perspectives are modest, but they are noble. If we truly learn the lesson such viewpoints offer us, we might begin to change our negative course in small but gradual strides. Now is the time we begin to answer if we believe in a better way.