I believe I recall Barack Obama quoting Otto Von Bismarck’s edict that “politics is the art of the possible,” and evidence of that optimism abounds everywhere I look in Denver today. The two words we seem to be hearing more than any others are “hope” and “change,” and we saw a wonderfully eloquent articulation of this enthusiasm last night in Wendy Redal’s post on starstruck idealism.
There’s no question (among rational people, anyway) that change is sorely needed, and after the last eight years hope is a precious and endangered commodity. Hope is the fuel of change, and sadly a lot of our traditional reserves are running dry.
I want to hope, and I’m being implored to hope, but really, should I? With all due respect to Bismarck, I find that for me, politics is the art of the probable. It wasn’t always that way. I wasn’t born cynical, and have, through the years, invested a good deal of my emotional capital in various and sundry hope futures markets. The results? Well, either the candidate in question gets beaten or, if he/she wins, winds up becoming part of the problem. After awhile it gets just about impossible to buy the shiny happy rhetoric.
But … Obama is different, right? The jury is still out on that one. There was nothing in his FISA capitulation to spark a lot of hope and his willingness to continue Bush’s faith-based bullshit is more than a little annoying for a guy who’s had about enough of the hellish admixture of government and religion for one lifetime. On the other hand, he opposed the invasion of Iraq and has so far insisted on a unifying tone on the campaign trail – and that last part is encouraging, given that for the last couple of decades politics has been mostly about corrosive divide and conquer tactics aimed at the American public. He’s on TV right now saying the right things about health care and education and energy. When push comes to shove, though, we don’t know as much as we need to about Sen. Obama to invest freely and openly. (Not that his lack of experience bothers me all that much – we’re in the mess we’re in thanks to people with a great deal of experience.)
My colleague at S&R, JS O’Brien, leans toward the optimistic side. He points out that you can’t do any good if you don’t get elected, and in order to do that you have to account for the realities of the political landscape. This is true, of course, but part of me stubbornly argues back that I need my leaders to lead, not follow.
Fortunately, hope and cynicism aren’t mutually exclusive mindsets. I’m capable of hoping powerfully without shutting my mind down and I’m also capable of assessing discouraging likelihoods without slitting my wrists. The fact that my favorite team has a one-in-a-thousand chance of winning the championship doesn’t keep me from watching the games and rooting hard for the good guys.
Where Obama is concerned, I guess I’m like Missouri: show me. I want change, I’m hopeful of change and I’m willing to work hard to make change a reality. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to look back on this moment as the point where the entire course of American and human history shifted, dramatically, toward a couorse that’s more enlightened, more progressive, more united, and more humane.
But there’s nothing about the candidacy of Barack Obama that has me making any blind leaps o’ faith. I’m pulling for the man, but there’s too much about the history of “hope” and even more about the money and media dynamics shaping our political engines these days that suggests caution.
So I’ll be cheering loudly and doing what I can to help Obama stave off four more years of Bush. But I’ll be betting small until I actually see change.