Very possibly the most important presidential elections of our lifetime will take place this November. America is in peril, and voters from all walks of life and all political orientations across all 50 states will go to the polls to show their preference for the next leader of the free world.
What is of concern to me and a lot of Americans is the state of our country and our collective inability to deal with a host of issues: Who will stop funding the war, or will we give another 720 billion dollars to the missile defense system? Who will stop the Patriot Act and all its ill-begotten consequences? Who will stop the sickening effort to save the economy with 150 billion dollar useless give away which only adds to the deficit, signifying nothing. Who will go after the corporations which outsource our drug manufacturing, our toy manufacturing and everything else imaginable? Who will speak of a national healthcare system without mentioning where the funds will come from? And, who will vote for the new budget which does not even include the cost of the military, but wants to take money from Medicare and Medicaid?
For the first time ever and due in large part to the vast amount of new debt caused by waging war and by tax cuts that subsidize a tiny minority — the USA was forced to pay more money on interest on the national debt (interest, but not repayment) than we spent last year on health care and public education and food programs combined. If the USA were a family, then we paid more credit card debt-servicing fees than the cost of all 2007 medical bills, school fees and groceries! Our bridges, roads, tunnels, water supply, dams, and power lines are crumbling at an alarming rate. The I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis just happened. The steam water supply in New York City just collapsed. We will hear more and more of this to the extent that we will no longer be able to rely on any of these structures.
There will come a day not too long from now, if not within a year, when the Secretary of the Treasury will come to the president late in the afternoon and announce, “Mr. President, we cannot pay any bills other than interest starting tomorrow! We cannot borrow any more since no one will lend to us!” The chaos which will follow this is unimaginable. It will surely end our government and society as we know it. Riots, hoarding, living without power, neighbor vying with neighbor over means to survive, no police or fire, no hospitals, no military, etc., will surely take place. We need action on this now.
We must demand accountability from our presidential candidates on all these crises now and vote accordingly. It is not enough to say vote Democrat, Republican, Hillary, Obama or McCain. Character should matter more than gender, race or party affiliation. Our Founding Fathers prized character and virtue above all else. George Washington, according to Gordon Wood, possessed “neither copiousness of ideas nor fluency of words.” Washington’s genius, his greatness, lay in his character. He was “a self-made hero.” Benjamin Franklin listed 13 virtues, and toiled daily to refine his character. Freedom, in any form, demands a price. Freedoms are not bestowed by the government but inherent in each one of us. To be free is to have control over the conditions of our own existence. The answer to the complexity of the presidency is not abandoning constitutional principles but electing the person who has courage, conscience, character, talent, intellect and skill in delegation.
I want a president who can end partisan bickering. I want a president who can repair a damaged economy. I want a president who can get us out and redeem us from an unpopular war. I want a president who can voice disgust about the genocide in Palestine, Gaza, and the West Bank and bring closure to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I want a president who can find a suitable answer to the immigration issue. I want a president who can bridge the racial and religious divides. I want a president who can inspire our youth and bring them into the political process. I want a president of intellect and integrity that the world will respect. For me, that looks like Barack Obama.
Admittedly, Obama has a less traditional bio, but he has exhibited uncommonly good judgment. Consider the unpopular doubts he expressed publicly on Oct. 2, 2002 prior to our invasion of Iraq: “But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors … and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” Enough said.
Obama asks that we try to work together across the lines of party and all the other boundaries that keep us isolated from each other because the troubles we face are too dire for us to remain divided. But he’s not preaching a weak kneed centrism. He’s asking all of us to help create a framework for a post-partisanship unknown in our time. He’s challenging us to grow together as a nation. He’s pleading with us to look at the impossibly high mountain that stands before us and to begin the climb anyway.
So after you vote on November 4, 2008, grab your hiking boots and a sturdy walking stick and let’s get going. There’s no time to waste. The last eight years have been disastrous; let’s make the next eight years prosperous.
The writer is professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio.