A Letter to Howard


In these quisling replies to Obama's remarkable speech, in the evident terror from both the GOP and the Clinton campaign that they are up against a potentially great man who must, therefore, be destroyed, we encounter again, in a different form, the politics of hate. This is hate at its most reflexive: hatred of Obama because he isn't as debased as they are, hatred for nobility and dignity and excellence because these qualities, by their very existence, condemn the GOP and Clinton.

For myself, the speech lifted me up and hurled me down. It lifted me because it was intelligent, eloquent, nuanced, mature and even revelatory in its simple honesty. I could not recall the last time a politician had shown such respect for the American people, and I was thrilled to think that a person like this might actually become our president. It hurled me down because even before he had finished I found myself thinking: this guy is too good for America, too truthful, too frank, too decent, too heroic. The Clintons and the Republicans hate him for that. They call it something else, but that's what they hate him for. And what could be more terrible than that? What could paint the future of the nation in darker colors than the notion that excellence itself attracts the sharks?

The speech clarifies and confirms what we already knew, Obama is America's hope, and possibly its last hope. Because if the nation, offered by some miracle a candidate of this caliber, turns him down in the usual access of cynicism, in terror of its own better nature, it will know what it is has done, and it will know implicitly that in doing so it has renounced itself. To pick Clinton or McCain over Obama is an act of despair. It is a way saying that the country is beyond redemption, so we might as well choose a candidate who expresses our despair, a candidate who employs the same low aspirations and brutal methods that have characterized our politics for the past generation. Yes, Clinton is exceedingly bright, and perhaps quite competent, but at a moral and a spiritual level, in matters of vision and leadership, she is simply another pol. McCain, though a decent man, seems to be even less than that. Together, they represent business as usual, and for the nation, at this crucial moment, business as usual constitutes despair, a firm conviction that we can do nothing truly to right this country, reinvigorate and renew our national purpose.

I am not convinced that Obama will be a great or even a good president; the vagaries of his policies and of his commitment to battle give me real pause. But I am convinced that if we do not choose him, if we do not take the chance on this man who suggests such extraordinary possibilities, we will all know we have chosen despair. The press will not mention it, because the press in its "knowingness" is a large part of that despair. And the politicians will say nothing because it is despair that keeps them in office. Only the people, here and there, will privately express to each other their disappointment that this man, who seemed, really, of a different order, never got to lead us. And we will know that this rare opportunity, missed once, will be unlikely to offer itself again.