Senator Obama has a problem: the hardening of the American heart, the closing of the American mind, the shriveling of our souls, the shrinking capacity of our imaginations, our jaded senses, the seen-it-all attitude that makes us into sneering voyeurs too mean spirited to save ourselves.
I was a guest on a PRI radio show the day after Obama delivered is historic speech on race. I was a guest along with a person that the host introduced as "most responsible" for making Obama's minister's charged comments into a political football. According to the host's introduction, Republican activist Ronald Kessler used his website to turn Obama's minister's words into the story the media jumped on.
Kessler had just heard Obama's March 18 speech on race too. He said it left him unmoved. He was in a sneering mood bristling with ever-so-reasonable middle class certitude of his conservative righteousness. To Kessler the speech was just politics, nothing more. The idea of it's truth was of no consequence. To him it was all about tactics.
That night I was listening to Laura Ingraham (a show that I was on several times and where Laura repeatedly called me a "great American" because, as the father of a Marine, I'd written Keeping Faith and then Faith of Our Sons, books that praised and explained the military family.) Laura was sneering at Obama's speech. Her candidate had been Mitt Romney. As Romney's self-described "conservative-conservative" Ingraham had also been routinely mocking McCain. And she hates Clinton. Now she hates Obama more...
Bitterness as a way of life marches forward on the left as well as the right. I read the responses from Clinton supporters (on various websites) also damning Obama's speech as "just words." Some of the Clinton people sounded even more cynical than Kessler and Ingraham.
Obama is the chef who opens a new restaurant and serves honest good and beautifully prepared food made of the most wholesome ingredients only to have the food critic pan his offerings as "all too ordinary." "Where," asks the seen-it-all jaded bored critic, "are the calf's brains marinated in truffle-soaked baby duck's testicles?"
Obama offers civility in the midst of a drunken national bar fight. Obama speaks in complete sentences, well-turned paragraphs, offers thoughts with intellectual depth, nuance, humility and compassion. Obama is a reasoned essay cast before sound-bite swine who seem ready to tear anything that falls into their sty to shreds.
By providence or blind luck, we are being given a second chance. In Obama our founders appear once again stepping from the mists of time to offer a wayward great, great grandchild an opportunity for redemption. But everything is turned on its head. Good is called bad. The greatest things about Obama are used against him, decency and transparency are mocked.
Obama stands in the tradition of our founders, a citizen running for office, not a "professional" striver. But the cry goes up, "He doesn't have the experience!" Experience? At what? Playing games with our country's soul while the only real game in our nation's capitol is hanging on to power, enriching oneself at the political trough through connections, taking us to war after war, making us hated throughout the world by catering to our insatiable, unreasoning fears.
Obama is the man who reaches out to help a dying passerby and the passerby snarls, "What do you really want?" Obama came to us on March, 18 with one of the most generous and brilliant speeches that has been delivered on American soil. He spoke honestly of things all other American leaders have been too timid and self-serving to even mention. Standing behind him were the sprits of countless murdered, enslaved, tortured, lost black Americans. Their blood cries out for revenge and yet Obama offered forgiveness, perspective and understanding.
Obama is not Jesus. Obama makes mistakes. He is rightly self-deprecating. Nevertheless, imperfect as he is, Obama is offering America a fresh start. There is more decent intelligent authenticity in his little finger than the Clintons will ever know. There is more kind wisdom in Obama than in all our sneering bloodsucking moronic media combined. But we have imbibed detritus for so long that when clean food is offered we can't taste it.
This isn't about politics. I'm a fifty-five year old white man who has been a conservative all my life. I've been a right wing Republican activist. I'm a big fan of the military. If Obama can reach out to me he can reach out to anyone. He can win in November.
What I'm saying here will lose me friends. For instance the Bush family gave one of my recent military-related books a ringing endorsement. After Laura Bush read an excerpt out on Meet The Press sales skyrocketed. I probably won't get too many more of those sorts of endorsements. But the chips are down and the presidential choices this year are too important not to not fight for.
As I see it our choice is between a good and heroic old man whose time has past and who will perpetuate failed policy, a jaded woman of the establishment, who will do anything to perpetuate her family's dynastic "claim" to power, and a brilliant, openhearted new founding father the likes of which America has not seen.
Obama comes to us from outside the system that has produced our present multiple crises of wars of choice and a failing economy. He does what all truly great leaders do: he speaks to the soul in plain self-revealing words of hope.
If we squander this undeserved reprieve and choose business-as-usual, if we don't elevate ourselves out of our self-made mire, we will step into a future of steep and steady decline and war without end. It won't matter if you are right or left. It won't matter if the Republicans or the Democratic Party wins. We will all lose.
I think there is reason to hope. There are decent people out there who have refused to go along with the smear-by-association campaign. Mike Huckabee defended Obama. McCain said we can't blame Obama for his minister's words. Not everyone on the right is stooping as low as the Clintons and the right-wing media scavengers.
Obama is worth fighting for. He is worth losing old friends for. History has thrown America an unlikely lifeline. Do we have the decency, the sense, the last glimmer of sanity needed to open our hearts to change?
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of "CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It