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Erik Lundegaard Headshot

Who is Barack Obama? Atticus Finch.

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For most of the year, Republicans have tried to negatively define Barack Obama. They compare him to the most empty aspects of our own society and the most violent aspects of global society. They twist everything, and lie about anything, and in doing so reveal exactly who and how desperate they are.

In the face of these attacks, Barack has remained calm, articulate, resolute. His anger, when it comes, is not the anger of a man with a hair-trigger temper, like John McCain, but the righteous anger of someone who knows that not only he, but our entire system, is being wronged.

And it got me thinking about who this reminds me of.

We know how John McCain defines himself -- as a maverick -- but anyone who's been paying attention knows how empty that slogan is. He's a follower at this point. He's following the lead of Steve Schmidt, his campaign manager, who once followed the lead of Karl Rove. Whatever smear works, whatever lie works, no matter how sleazy, that's what they'll do. So regardless of what John McCain once was, he has now been reduced to the role of a not very bright man surrounded by extremely malicious people. The same malicious people, I should add, who have surrounded another not very bright man, George W. Bush, for the last eight years.

But they keep pumping out the myth. The chest-thumping, Paul Fistinyourface myth of the stupidly aggressive American. In a magazine interview, John McCain even compared himself to TV hero Jack Bauer of "24," until he was reminded that Bauer's main (and suspect) means of gathering information -- torture -- is what John McCain suffered under for five years. But I guess torture is good as long as we're the torturers. I guess bullying is good as long as we're the bullies.

Barack, it's true, is no bully. When the Republicans mocked him for being a community organizer, he spoke eloquently about the relevance, particularly in troubled times, of "setting up job-training programs in areas that have been hard-hit when the steel plants closed," and then turned the question back on the Republicans: "The question I have for them is 'Why would that kind of work be ridiculous?' Who are they advocating for? Who are they fighting for?"

When Gov. Palin suggested that habeas corpus doesn't matter, he responded with a strong defense of both habeas corpus and the U.S. Constitution:

It's the foundation of Anglo-American law, which says very simply that if the government grabs you, you have the right to at least ask "Why was I grabbed?" and "Maybe you got the wrong person." ... The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism, it's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting. Don't mock the Constitution! Don't make fun of it! Don't pretend that it's un-American to abide by what the founding fathers set up, it's worked pretty well for over 200 years.

So who does Barack remind me of? He's a civil rights lawyer who taught Constitutional law and is bringing up two girls the right way. When bullies gather, he stands up for what's right, he stands up for the rule of law, he stands up. He's someone who can make friends out of our enemies rather than -- as the Republicans keep doing -- enemies out of our friends. He's an honorable man running an honorable campaign.

You've already read the headline so you already know my answer. Barack Obama reminds me of Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and, according to the American Film Institute, the greatest hero in American movie history. (Barack actually seems tougher than Atticus, as anyone who's read Ryan Lizza's New Yorker piece would agree.)

Here's Scout on Atticus: "There just didn't seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn't explain." Here's Atticus to Scout: "If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."

This is the very lesson that chest-thumping Republicans have mocked for the last seven years. And where has it gotten us? Wasting billions pursuing the wrong people in the wrong places.

Republicans aren't interested in understanding people. They're not even interested in talking to people. You can almost imagine this bit of dialogue between Atticus and Scout taking place between Barack and a certain Republican vice-presidential candidate:

Atticus: Scout, do you know what a compromise is?
Scout: Bending the law?
Atticus: Um, no. It's an agreement reached by mutual consent.

We're still in this midst of our own mythic internal struggle, aren't we, between the violent and often lawless aspects that John McCain represents, and the tough but ethical rule of law that Barack Obama represents. I would've thought this battle was over by now. I would've thought rule of law triumphed long ago. Apparently not.

Even Atticus, that great hero, lost his case. He proved his case but the trial was rigged from the start by our own overwhelming prejudices, by our need to see things as they are not, by our need to buy into the lie.

Are we a better country now? Or do we still need to see things as they are not? Do we still need to buy into the lie?

That's up to you.