One of the benefits of longevity is the ability to develop a broad network of friends and acquaintances. When you have spent the past thirty years in the political arena, as I have, it allows one to build an extensive rolodex, and if done correctly, it can include an impressive array of folks with differing backgrounds, opinions, and ideas.
Just yesterday I had occasion to have lunch with a former Mayor from a mid-sized central Pennyslvania city who has been fond of telling people over the years that he represents Pennsyltucky, that T-section of the state that James Carville so aptly described once in this way: the state can be described as being Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between.
It is a place I have called home for the past five plus years. It is staunchly conservative and Republicans heavily out register and out vote Democrats. My old friend, the Mayor, opened up our conversation with the following question, "So how are we doing?" This seemed odd to me given that even though we have been friends for nearly two decades now, it was always understood that politics was not fruitful territory for discussion.
"What's this we, kimosabe?" was my reply. The Mayor has spent the greater part of the past eight years or so doing democracy building work in foreign lands, and I immediately thought that the broadening of his horizons must have truly had a positive impact on his thinking abilities.
He proceeded to tell me of his support for Barack Obama, the positive impact it would have upon our international credibility, the potential it would have for addressing our domestic concerns, including the deteriorating infrastructure of our urban areas (an area where Mayors and former Mayors live and breathe), and the awful prospect of contemplating Sarah Palin anywhere near the White House. I was astounded, but happily so.
He then proceeded to tell me that the new John McCain, and the new Republican party were not the party he so loyally clung to for all these years. His was the party of Rockefeller, Lindsay, Hugh Scott. Essentially, he feels that his party has abandoned him.
I wondered how widespread this attitude is and suppose we will not accurately know for another week or so. But in a state like Pennsylvania, if moderate Republicans reflect this sentiment to any small degree, I believe it will blunt out the negative impacts of what remains of the so-called "Bradley effect", hence giving Obama a comfortable win here.
I have always respected my friend, even as I disagreed with his politics, but I found myself marveling at the changing dynamic that has taken place over the course of this Presidential election. Whether this represents simply a maturation of political thought, or the hoped for liberation of entrenched biases-- racial, political and/or ideological-- it does provide hope and portend an excitement that has not captured the public imagination since the election of John F. Kennedy.
The troubled times we find ourselves in cry out for and demand creativity, ingenuity, and a new way of thinking. Obama/Biden offers at least the possibility of a new frontier. McCain/Palin offers no possibility other than a reckless tack into a mythical past that never existed.
I surely hope that my chat is a harbinger of a reawakening of the American spirit, an appeal to the very best that we have to offer, a challenge to the can do attitudes that made this country great. The recent defection of conservative thinkers from the McCain/Palin vision for the country only serves to reinforce the radical nature of the current Republican Party. It is a vision that is short-sighted, dark, and dangerous. And mercifully, it is a vision we will not be forced to deal with as we embark upon meeting the challenges of the contemporary world.
I felt better after lunch that day. I will feel better the day after Obama prevails.
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