19 October 2008

Gravitas, Sophistry and Presidential Timber vs. Kindling


In a campaign steeped with so much surreal sophistry, I have been searching for gravitas. I was eager to watch "Meet the Press" this morning. Distinguished former JCS and Secretary of State Colin Powell was the featured guest. I was anxious to hear what he had to say because technically he's a registered republican like me and also, I have the highest respect for this man. I've always thought him to be a reasonable, brilliant and sensible gentleman who would, in my opinion, have made a fine president in his own right.

As Tom Brokaw lead him up to the $64,000 question, Powell offered a studied assessment of both Sen. McCain as well as Sen. Obama. His points were concise, topical, thorough and I personally agreed with just about everything he said.

I've always personally put a lot of stock in Powell's opinions because he's seen things from within the inner circle of government and the military. Like a lot of Americans, I feel as if I can trust this man's view because of the positions he's held and, frankly, I always thought Bush threw him under the bus.

These are some of the most challenging times America has ever faced. No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, most of us can agree that our plate isn't simply full, stuff is spilling off of it in huge dollops. Our plate can barely contain its contents at the moment.

I've had serious and deep conversations with people I highly respect in these past few weeks, people I have known for years and put a lot of stock into what they believe., their opinions and views. Anyone who reads this blog or knows me personally understands that my own parents top that list. I can't think of two humans I respect and have more faith in than Barbe & Maxine Cook and I say this because in my 48 year history with these folks, they have been right something like 99.99999% of the time with a negligible margin of error. It is, in fact, uncanny how often they are correct on a myriad of subjects. These aren't knee-jerk, radical or prejudice people. In my estimation they have managed to be progressive without ever abandoning their beliefs or ideals. I would trust them with my life and have on several occasions. On a few important occasions they have, in fact, taught me to be more open and thoughtful in my approach to pivotal situations in raising my kids and they've gently guided me from being too rigid or judgmental. They have lead me not by preachy sermonizing, but by their impeccable example and graceful guidance. My parents may not be perfect, but they're just about as close to it as I've ever known.

I've also had talks with others that I respect including close friends and even my exhusband, Tim. I have a long history of observing his compass and I have known him for twenty-nine years. I respect him, too, even if I don't agree with him on everything.

I've searched for answers, read volumes of text and listened intently to interviews, all three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. I have practiced as much objectivity as I possibly can and in doing so, I can't help but continue to feel strongly that Barack Obama is the better choice. It's tough for me, coming from a predominantly conservative background.

I must say, however, that McCain's selection of Sarah Palin did make it easier and she continues to validate my initial feelings about her as being someone about as qualified to be vice-president or president as my dog or three cats. I continue to look at her biography and recent campaign performance as comic book in nature with even less substance. I can't for the life of me figure out what John McCain was thinking in choosing her. I read one headline out of the UK this morning that asked the question, "Is Sarah Palin Presidential Timber" to which I immediately thought, my gosh, she's not even presidential kindling.

Honestly, I believe that at his core, John McCain is a good man, a decent, respectable man who is inarguably an American hero in every sense of the word. He has served his country far more brilliantly than his own campaign staff and advisers have served him. Having said that, I just don't think McCain was well-qualified to be the next president because Bush's "legacy" has been too painful and the thought, there mere idea of four more years of a continuation of his policies is more than many of us can stomach.

Like I said, I was deeply torn before McCain chose his running mate but with his choice of Palin, I pretty much realized not voting for McCain wouldn't be as difficult as it might have been had he chose a more appropriate and well-qualified running mate. A pistol-packing hockey mom might make a colorful friend to grab a cup of "Joe" (and not Joe the unlicensed plumber who owes back taxes) with, but to consider this woman who uses phrases like "palling around with terrorists" or sometimes reverts to a syntax only Yoda could understand and appreciate, is beyond horrifying. I'm not in the slightest bit elitist, but I would prefer our national leaders to be articulate and knowledgeable and yes, even have more than a page or two of stamps in their passport. I don't necessarily fault Sarah Palin as much as I do the McCain Camp for inserting her in a position she is completely ill-prepared or qualified to assume. It kind of strikes me as the type of non-forward thinking that landed us in Iraq: Yes, doing so made a huge splash and bold statement, but once we situated ourselves there and whoops, didn't find any WMD's, what do we do now? In a sense, Palin's selection was big on "splash 'max" factor'" but after the ripples receded, what does she bring to the table? It turns out that her "international vision" is restricted to the horizon looking West across the Bering Sea where, on a clear day, you can see maybe not forever, but sometimes catch a glimpse of Russia.

That is literally and figuratively short-sighted and very scary. We're in a high-tension situation that doesn't allow us to affect short-sightedness. We need the ability to see as far and wide as we possibly can - even further than the tip of Russia from across the Bering Sea. As Secretary of State Powell said this morning, we need someone "transformational". In this race, for me at least, that translates Barack Obama and Joseph (Joe the Senator) Biden. Someone who doesn't look as if he's going to blow a blood vessel from sheer, barely controllable rage, but who is deliberate, studied and forward thinking, who doesn't spout off in anger or legislate based on emotion.

So I was grateful for Powell's thoughtful assessment of both McCain and Obama this morning. It was well-presented and elaborative and while his endorement may not be the clincher for a lot of folks, it did comfort me and validate my feelings. No matter where you are in your thinking on this election, it's worth listening to Brokaw's interview with Powell.

This has been such an internal struggle for me - this crossing party lines on a presidential level, grappling with my hopes and dreams for the future of my now grown up kids and, someday, their own children and what I hope and pray their future looks like. It's interesting how our vision changes with our station in life. I now find myself thinking of grandchildren that might appear at some point in the next five or seven years. I want it to be as safe and dream-laden as I feel it's been for me.

It's never been perfect and of course it won't ever be, but it's been such a stellar country to call home and there is such a profound pride in being an American. We're such a diverse country and independence courses through all of our collective veins. As Americans, we're not simply encouraged to dream, but it's tacitly expected of us to be dreamers, to reach for our own stars and we're told from birth that because we're Americans, ANYTHING is possible and, as evidenced by our myriad achievements, many of those dreams evolve into a personal reality. We're Americans. We do great things a lot of the time. What a history we have and yes, we're in a tough spot right now, but we've been in tough spots before. I don't know if I fall into one of those geographical areas that Sarah Palin has determined to be "real America", but I think "real America" isn't just in a few pre-determined locations but everywhere there are Americans. We take it with us. How arrogant of Palin.

I was talking to my manager Friday and noticed he had a "YES WE CAN - NC FOR OBAMA" yard sign. I remarked on it and he said I could have it - he has one in his yard. Me, with a sign like that here on McCain Street. Even my pro-McCain parents have remarked on the other signs on our street touting the republican nominee, saying they don't think much of placing yard signs regardless of their choice. At first I found that odd and then, after a little reflection, it was quintessential "Barbe & Maxine". It's how they are about everything - not showy or "in your face" and certainly not pushy at all. They don't need to post signs just as they never force-fed anyone their beliefs, religious or otherwise. They live what I have come to refer to as a "quiet calm". It's why they have a plethora of friends far and wide. It's also why their family, both immediate and extended, respect and adore them. I grew up watching them "walk the walk" and rarely heard them talk much about it. Truly, my parents embrace "to be rather than to seem". Never offensive or obtrusive and never, ever in your face. Rare are the people who can effectively comingle idealism with common sense. For my parents, it is like breathing. Seamless. Remarkable.

When I told my Dad about the sign in my car, he looked at me and I quickly said, "Of course, I'm not going to put it in the yard...it's going in my office upstairs.". That was a close one! And that's where it will go - on the wall of my office as a memento of this election. A reminder of this moment in our history as we prepare to make even more of it. I want to remember this time when my political beliefs, feelings and thoughts have felt so challenged. Someday, I want to tell my grandkids of this election and they will be bored with it I'm sure, but maybe they'll look at that sign someday and say, "What's up with that old campaign sign, Grandma?". I will smile and launch into a story of the time way back in 2008 when I wasn't exactly sure what was what and who was who. By then, the Obama-Biden presidency (if they win as expected) will be one for the history books and I hope, I dearly pray, that my hunches and feelings and hopes and dreams will maybe even be exceeded.

On this Sunday in late October, days from this historical election, it is leap of faith. Regardless of how it all goes, let's hope for a safe landing on the other side and because we're Americans, on 5 November, we'll rally behind our next president and get to work with him, whoever he is. That's what we do.

That is who we are.