“A Rendezvous with Destiny”
In Abraham Lincoln’s time in the 1860s, it was the question of Union and Disunion, of slavery and freedom. In Franklin Roosevelt’s time in the 1930s, it was the Great Depression with its unending bread lines, and recovery through the New Deal.
During George Bush’s eight years of presidency, described by the late author David Foster Wallace as “an unmitigated horror show of rapacity, hubris, incompetence, mendacity, corruption, cynicism and contempt for the electorate,” history repeated itself. An unspoken civil war now exists between the haves and the have-nots, subtler but no less lethal for the Union. In Northern California where I live, I see more and more people – white and black - standing by the roadside and in front of grocery stores, holding up signs that read: “Hungry. Please help.”
In their time, Americans chose Lincoln and Roosevelt to save the country. Who will they choose on November 4th this year? Lincoln speaks to us across the century and a half that separate his time from ours: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds …” Roosevelt’s words also resonate across the years: “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
One candidate has articulated these ideals in his campaign, convincing a vast number of voters that he can bind the nation’s wounds, reverse the economic meltdown and bring the old America back, the America that the world used to look up to, a strong and prosperous nation that put its power in the service of justice and peace at home and abroad.
That candidate is Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, land of Lincoln.
Born in Hawaii of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, this cosmopolitan, contemplative man has gained the confidence of Americans across party lines. He has called us to a higher purpose, in which liberty and equality are not enemies but symbiotically related, and we have responded. His steady resolve, inclusive worldview, common sense and sound judgment, combined with his grace and eloquence, has so energized Americans that this election may see the highest voter turnout in U.S. history.
If one were to summarize the reasons for Obama’s astonishing rise, it would be that he engaged in the politics of hope while McCain engaged in the politics of fear.
Particularly for young Americans, this hope over fear has fired their imagination even more than what John Kennedy, the architect of the New Frontier, was able to accomplish in 1960. Obama defined his message of hope in his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004: “Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope … that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead.”
An upset can still occur on November 4th. That is why Obama has appealed to his supporters not to become complacent even for a minute and to make sure that they all vote on Election Day.
McCain and Palin launched unethical, unfounded attacks against Obama by questioning his patriotism, dropping innuendos about his middle name, calling him a “socialist redistributionist” (whatever that means) and accusing him of consorting with terrorists. Americans are fed up with these negative and fear-mongering tactics. They see McCain as an extension of Bush's failed policies, and recognize that an intelligent, intellectually curious and visionary African-American, “a transformational candidate” in the words of Colin Powell, can guide the nation toward a new and humane direction as Lincoln and Roosevelt did during their times.
What about the rest of the world? Gallup Polls recently conducted in 70 countries representing nearly half the world’s population reveal that 3 out of 4 favor Obama over McCain in the U.S. presidential election.
Can Barack Hussein Obama rise to the post-election challenges if elected? Can he meet the post-election expectations? Talking heads are already raising these questions, and certainly the challenges and expectations will be exceptionally difficult to face and fulfill, but in these final hours, Americans are animated by only one hope, that after almost eight years of unrelenting national darkness, they will awake to a fresh and promising dawn on November 5th.
In 1936, Franklin Roosevelt said: “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” Seventy-two years later, so do we, so do we.