In the title sequence of the movie Hoosiers, Norman Dale, played by the great Gene Hackman, stops twice at a crossroads in rural Indiana to get his bearings. He is a man with a past that he's trying to put behind him, and all he's got to do it with is his love of the game of basketball. In a small town in Indiana, where basketball is the allegory for just about everything people hold dear, Norman Dale redeems himself and creates his place in the mythic lore of the Hoosier state.
"Crossroads of America" is the Indiana state motto. It could also serve as the motto for this presidential election. Like Norman Dale, who got fired from a coaching job in New York for punching a player, we've got things in our nation's past we need to get behind us. The direction we choose at this crossroads will determine how our story unfolds. Our choices are clear. There are four possibilities, and only one of them is the wrong one.
In Hoosiers, it didn't matter to the narrative whether Norman Dale went left, right or straight ahead. (He went straight at one crossroads, left at the other.) The only choice he could not make was to turn around and go back the way he came, because that would have been a different story altogether, most likely some kind of tragedy. Or it would have been no story at all.
With the presidential election, voters have the same choices Norman Dale had. Arguments about left vs. right vs. straight-ahead, are healthy dialogues that will continue as long as America has elections. The only choice we cannot afford to make, the choice guaranteed to be the unproductive one, is a U-turn that points us back the way we came. That would be tragic.
It is clear that John McCain and Sarah Palin want to turn the motorcade around and head back to where the country has already been. They want to take us back to when there were 48 states, and, Alaska, by golly, wasn't one of 'em. They want to re-live the POW story from 40 years ago, settle scores by enemy body counts, show the Commies who's boss and get the CIA to handle loudmouths from South America and preening provocateurs from the Middle East.
Voting for 'Ike and Tina U-Turner' would drive us back to a day when women had fewer rights than men, and the color of one's skin meant more than the content of one's character.
A vote for McCain and Palin puts us on the return route to when people measured themselves by the animals they'd killed and mounted on their mantles. Back to the days when hillbillies shot at food and up from the ground come a-bubblin' crude. Back to when Mr. Clean nee The Marlboro Man nee Joe the Plumber told us everything we needed to know about a product, because we swallowed whatever we were sold.
In the erstwhile direction McCain and Palin point, a radical college student from Chicago plans to bomb the Pentagon with an 8-year old African American kid from Hawaii as his accomplice. First, it's a past they have fictionalized to suit their own political purposes. Second, the student radical has evolved into a pillar of his community today. Third, if this history is so horrible, why do they spend so much time and energy re-visiting it? As their pitifully unproductive 'William Ayers game' indicates, the Republicans' field of vision for this election is limited to what they can see in their rear-view mirrors. We cannot get where we're going by going where we've already been.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden, by vivid contrast, are focused resolutely on what's visible through the windshield of their vehicle (which runs on alternative fuel, by the way). They offer the directions--left, right, and straight ahead are all possibilities--that move the American narrative forward. This forward-looking philosophy gives new relevance to old ideas like a 'Picket Fence' of government regulations on financial institutions, and opens the way for fresh ideas and new players to find their rightful place in the narrative.
On all the significant issues debated during the election--health care, the economy, foreign relations, education, energy, entrepreneurship--Obama and Biden have shown a willingness to take the long view. They understand that a government, a business or an individual cannot correct new problems with old solutions, and that the answers we seek await us on the road ahead.
We are all participants the American narrative. By choosing Obama and Biden, we express what is best about our story. Our belief that an underdog can overcome the odds. That education is the key to success. That someone from a modest upbringing can make it big. That the ingenuity, curiosity and boldness that lead us to discover and explore new worlds will guide us toward solutions to the challenges we'll face in the future.
And for any of you Hoosiers out there still parked at the crossroads, confused about which way you should roll, there's this: If Obama's elected, there's going to be a basketball court in the White House. What else about the road ahead do you really need to know?
Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers - Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. His website is www.gamechangers.com.