10/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Is "Wake Up," McCain Is "Let Me Sleep"

The urgency that anyone feels, or doesn't feel, about the 2008 election rests on the issue of waking up. Over two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters that the country is on the wrong track. Dissatisfaction with government is rife. Looming crises such as climate change and global recession call for quick action. But if the conventional wisdom sees this as a race against time before the clock runs out, conventional wisdom is wrong. This election is a consciousness race. Either you see the need to wake up or you want to keep sleeping, which means giving in to inertia and denial.

I make this point because there is no bigger reason in 2008 to ask for change than in 2004. Resentment ran high four years ago; failed policies were evident; the war was seen as dishonest and fruitless; corruption in Congress had been laid at the feet of a discredited Republican leadership. But causes for discontent aren't enough. A willingness to change must be found. It wasn't found in 2004, and the same opposing forces are at work this year. They aren't the usual things we blame: the Republican smear machine, district gerrymandering, voter apathy, disgust with politics, and cynicism. Those are basically rationalizations and easy excuses.

The deeper truth is that change is genuinely threatening and isn't accomplished without movement in consciousness. Psychologists are well aware of the threats that change poses.
-- It's scary to give up what's familiar. Habits make life feel safe and predictable.
--The unknown creates vague, unfocused anxiety.
--Suspicion is aroused by the new and untried.
--Inertia is comfortable, movement is uncomfortable.
--Denial "solves" problems by keeping them out of sight, disguising painful truths.
In the 2008 election, McCain and Palin are pleading to all these feelings of threat and turning them into false positives. The free market, which supposedly heals all problems automatically (never mind the national debt, gross income inequality, runaway foreclosures, the threat of worldwide recession, uncontrollable oil prices, and other gifts of the free market), serves as a model for doing nothing in any area and letting things take care of themselves. It works to promote the appearance of change so long as the same people stay in power doing the same things as before. The right wing has fostered delusional thinking and blocked progress since the Reagan revolution, and it increasingly congratulated itself as consciousness slipped lower and lower. The goal wasn't a permanent Republican majority so much as a permanent sleepover.

Obama's wake-up call requires giving up the comforts of sleep, and so millions of voters naturally resist. Reagan showed the way by claiming that he would reduce government and stop runaway spending, while in reality he increased government and the deficit tripled. To counter this reality, the right learned to lull itself with image over substance and falsehoods over truth. Sadly, the tactic worked back then and continues to work today. Which is not automatically cause for gloom. Consciousness does stir at times when history turns the page. The original upwelling of support for Obama came from consciousness, not from issues. In the spring this upwelling seemed unstoppable, but resistance hadn't taken a stand yet. Now we are witnessing, in the rise of Sarah Palin, the full force of "Let me sleep" when faced with a wake-up call. (She trumps even this level of lethargy by adding know-nothing to do-nothing.) If consciousness wants to move, it will have to push resistance out of the way. That's what happens when individuals strive for change, and the same thing applies to societies.

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