Ira Smolensky


A slight case of Barack OÕmania


         I have been of legal voting age since 1972.

         That means I have voted in nine presidential races.  Yet I have never actually voted for a presidential candidate.  I have always voted against what I thought to be the greater of two evils.

         That has changed this year.

         Along with many others, I had been hoping that Barack Obama would run for president, and, now that he has thrown his hat in the ring, I have also decided to take the plunge, throwing my support behind a candidate in whom I believe whole-heartedly.

         Make no mistake about it.  ItÕs a scary proposition.

         In the past, when candidates have stumbled, I could either feel smug, if it was someone to whom I had a major aversion, or at least keep my emotional distance, if it was a candidate with whom I had some sympathy.

         But now I am invested. I will bleed when Obama is pricked.  I will die a little when he missteps.  And I will be reborn when he rebounds.

         Why is it Obama that has melted my political heart of stone?

         ItÕs all about national unity.  Many candidates speak of uniting the nation.  Heck, George W. Bush sometimes gushed about it.  But Bush and the others could not make good on their promise.  They were too inured in unhealthy forms of partisanship to bring broad masses of people together.

         Obama has made his name as someone who is significantly less enmeshed in counterproductive party or ideological conflicts.  In this respect, he goes back to a tradition of thought that predates modern political cleavage— good old American pragmatism.  Personified, on the one hand, by philosopher John Dewey, and, on the other, by countless ordinary Americans, pragmatism eschews ideological doctrine for hands-on ingenuity.  Unlike programmatic right and left wing thinkers, pragmatism is geared toward the solving of problems in the best and fairest way possible, and with the full involvement of the public, rather than by elite manipulation.

         That Obama fits snugly into the pragmatic tradition is pretty much beyond question.

         ObamaÕs speech at the 2004 National Democratic Convention was notable most of all for the absence of partisan or ideological acrimony.  His two books, one written when his aspirations were literary rather than political, the other as a prelude to the 2008 presidential campaign, both present the reflections and ideas of a man who is bigger than any one party, interest, or slogan.

         While The Audacity of Hope, ObamaÕs second book, lays out his basic political ideals and strategies, it is, oddly enough, Dreams from My father, first published in 1995, that makes me most hopeful about Obama.  Though not a literary masterpiece, in my opinion, it does present a candid, un-idealized version of ObamaÕs early life.  To me, this is a very important contribution to the development of American democracy.  For our form of government to achieve its potential, we cannot vote for candidates as though they are superhuman demigods rather than real life men and women with real life strengths and flaws. 

         I do sincerely believe that Barack Obama is the best person for the job of the presidency in 2008, and that he can help our nation negotiate a difficult corner on its way to fulfilling its most ambitious dreams.

         But I donÕt want to deify Obama.  Nor do I wish to demonize his opponents.

         It is time for American democracy to grow up.  ObamaÕs campaign can help us to move more rapidly toward maturity.