Other Voices: Obama’s path can lead us onto new ground | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Obama’s path can lead us onto new ground

In an Other Voices titled “‘The Candidate – starring Barack Obama” (The Union, Feb. 21), the writer questionably compares the fictional character of Robert Redford in the 1972 movie “The Candidate” with real candidate Barack Obama.

He dulls enthusiasm for Obama by imagining him stripped of his “exotic name,” and suggesting that his Harvard law degree ties him to political elites, not to populists. He uses the adjectives “vague” and “cosmetic” to downplay the senator’s policy statements and personal style.

But he does not mention that Sen. Obama created his career path as he was walking it. From several years as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama came to see that the changes he was working to bring about required the backing of laws and politics, and he made the critical decision to study law. Though he graduated from Harvard with honors that opened doors to prestigious law firms, Obama opted instead to join a civil rights practice back in Chicago.

The next step was to influence the enactment of the laws themselves by winning a seat in the Illinois Senate where, among other achievements during his eight years in office, he worked to enact legislation that provided state earned income tax credits for working families, expanded early childhood education and mandated videotapes of prisoner interrogations to protect the prisoners from suspected brutality. Colleagues have praised Obama’s skills at building consensus among political parties and differing special interests. From the Illinois senate, it was on to the U.S. Senate and then the long-shot stretch of declaring for the United States’ presidency.

“We make our roads as we go,” wrote the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. In an endorsement message, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine noted that Obama’s road has been one of “compassionate choices.”

The Other Voices writer’s insightful perception that Obama is “fresh, without the albatross of a long career around his neck,” places him among a new generation of leaders who do not bear the weight of what Andrew Sullivan calls, “the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us” (The Atlantic, Dec. 2007).

This long internal war, which plagued Bill Clinton’s presidency, is poised to continue if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate, according to the Evans-Novak Political Report on the conservative Web site, http://www.HumanEvents.com (Feb. 13), which forewarns us of “the dark mood among Republicans [from] the increasing prospect that they will not be able to bolster their morale by running against the detested Sen. Hillary Clinton.

“Her unification of Republicans,” the report continues, “has been one of the few GOP assets going into the campaign. It will take time and effort to work up a passion against the likable Sen. Barack Obama.”

Is Obama’s likableness merely “cosmetic,” as the Other Voices’ piece suggests? I chat often with a business friend about families and life. Sensing a political divide, we don’t discuss politics, but on Super Tuesday I dared to tell him I was off to vote for Obama. He was upset, he said, that his candidate, Huckabee, was losing, because front-runner John McCain would not be conservative enough for him. In fact, my friend added, if the choice in November narrowed down to McCain vs. Obama, he might have to vote for Obama.

I am among those who believe that what the Other Voices’ writer warns may be that Obama’s “pure rhetoric” might instead bring us reprieve from a stifling status quo. What is make-believe to me is his comparison of this very real candidate with Robert Redford’s fictional one of 27 years ago. There is too much solid ground under Obama’s path, too much tenacity in his endurance as one of the two survivors in a grueling campaign, for him to arrive clueless at his destination. Sure, there’s risk whenever we move on to new ground, but the greater risk might be letting this new ground slip away from under us.


Sherrill Brooks lives in Grass Valley.

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