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Senator Obama in The Summer of Awful

Choosing to support Obama has never been about issues. Rather, it's always been about electing a president we can reference with pride -- a president who won't flatly embarrass us everyday, who can inspire and negotiate the necessary support he'll need to roll back the darkness of the Bush years.
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The way these last several weeks have shaped up, the dark ride of the Bush years seems as though it's fixing to get darker with every passing, sweltering day.

It's smothering us, yet it remains mostly unspoken probably because we're being presently digested in the belly of it: The Summer of 2008 -- what I'm beginning to refer to as The Summer of Awful -- is shaping up to be one of those cinematic blocks of time that's sure to become the epic setting of books and movies of the future. The heat, the floods, the gas prices, the stock market, the unemployment, the foreclosures, the Olympics in China, the tainted tomatoes, the wild fires, the torture, the eavesdropping, the war, the vanishing Arctic... All of it magnified by this historical presidential campaign. The Summer of Awful. I can't recall a summer in recent memory more overpopulated by history and awfulness and insanity -- stacked up to our eyeballs and so directly impacting each of us on some very personal level.

And so the last thing many of us were prepared to do was to spend what little emotional capital we have left on consternation and hand-wringing with regards to our once-in-a-generation candidate: Senator Obama.

The recent succession of centrist maneuvers by our presumptive nominee has been, in a word, flummoxing. Honestly, I found myself -- a vocal blogotubes Obama partisan since December -- massaging my temples while exhaling, WTF? Simultaneously confounded and disappointed by some of his recent remarks on trade, FISA and faith-based initiatives.

On my day-to-day blog, you can almost bar-graph my blood pressure based on my immediate reactions to these events. He can't really be in favor of this crapwitted FISA Amendments Bill, can he? Did he really just praise the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives? Greenwald and Olbermann are feuding? Seriously? Will we be forced to do that which we were dreading had Senator Clinton been the nominee; that is, defend our candidate on non-issues like calculation and triangulation and capitulation? Say it ain't so, O!

It occurred to me, however, that I lost sight of an important variable in all of this. When I wrote my endorsement of Senator Obama in this space back in December, I made note of the fact that I didn't necessarily agree with him on every issue. This was of course another way of saying, He's not as liberal as I am, but I don't care.

Really, though, who ever agrees with a politician on everything all the time anyway? Watching the brilliant (and too short) John Adams miniseries this year, we were reminded that even the founders were contradictory and often frustratingly inconsistent -- many of us watching and wondering, for example, how a colossus of liberty could have signed the Alien and Sedition Acts. Fast forward to 2004 when we had to choke down Senator Kerry's Iraq authorization vote, not to mention his support for faith-based initiatives. Carrying this argument further, a diarist for Daily Kos reminds us:

Russ Feingold may have been the lone voice standing up to the first Patriot Act, but he voted for the confirmations of John Ashcroft and John Roberts.

Paul Wellstone was a strong liberal voice in the Senate, yet he voted for DOMA and the Patriot Act.

Dennis Kucinich, aside from being on the political fringe, was a lifelong pro-lifer until he decided he wanted to run for president.

Chris Dodd may do quite well on constitutional matters, but he voted for the Iraqi war, the Patriot Act, and is too beholden to the big banks and the hedge funds which he oversees from the Senate Banking Committee.

You and I could wait a lifetime for a skeleton key presidential nominee to come along who flawlessly interfaces with each of our pet issues, and, consequently, we'd probably die a politically disappointed and overly cynical death.

What attracted me to Senator Obama's candidacy wasn't that he was going to evolve into some kind of liberal messiah who I would agree with all the time. He never really made any promises of that sort, and it was clear -- especially to Kucinich and Edwards supporters -- that Senator Obama wasn't entirely in line with what are generally considered to be netroots or progressive causes. Rather, he's always been the pragmatic liberal whose every slogan and statement -- often employing the collective pronoun "we" -- seeks common ground between deep blue and blood red. He's the liberal who this week, while simultaneously reaching out to evangelical voters, issued an unequivocal statement of opposition against any constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. That's textbook Obama.

After I read the letter of support he sent to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, I remembered why I chose to support the senator's campaign -- and why it evolved into an enthusiasm for a politician that I've never quite experienced in my adult life. So why then...? In the simplest terms possible, choosing to support Senator Obama has never been about issues, but rather, it's always been about, 1) electing a thoughtful, smart president we can reference with pride -- a president who won't flatly embarrass us every damn day, and 2) electing a president who can inspire and negotiate the necessary support he'll need to roll back the darkness of the Bush years.

To that effect, and even though there are many who come close, I can't name another presidential-quality politician who's shown himself to be better suited to achieve these broad goals. Despite how we feel about individual issues like FISA or NAFTA, I think most of us with liberal or progressive tendencies can agree that we have a candidate here who is going to succeed on these challenges, while potentially forming a long-range coalition of support that could one day result in a purely progressive netroots candidate.

Those of us who have been strapped into this dark ride -- arms and legs locked into the tram, following these crimes and scandals and unconstitutional measures for too long... we've been damaged a little. We've been round-house kicked in the throat once too often. Sometimes by members of our own party. So it makes sense when some of us express shock or disillusionment at the actions of a politician regardless of their party affiliation. Besides, there's nothing wrong with criticizing the friendlies (though we're told that, politically, it might be wiser to keep our powder dry until after Senator McBush is soundly defeated). But what has served to keep me sane during these last weeks -- or saner -- has been the broad-stroke recollection of why, irrespective of the finer points, I decided to back this guy named Barack Obama for president in the first place.

If we're able to deliver the mandate he'll require in November -- which means a solid electoral college victory and expectations-defying down-ballot victories -- Senator Obama will help to vindicate our long-suffering, dark ride generation and, thusly, our time in American history -- a time that seems to be so perfectly summarized in thumbnail-form by this current Summer of Awful. If we can keep our attention focused on the big ideas that attracted us to the senator in the first place, he will make us proud.