If I may offer myself and my fellow bloggers a gentle criticism, I would say that while an honest assessment of the negatives in front of us is important--it isn't important only for the sake of brutal academic honesty. Such brutal honesty is fine as far as it goes and we'd all rather be right than wrong in seeing the outlines of the political field before us. But once a brutal political fact is asserted, it is also important that we not seem to permit marinating in it or appear to be satisfied merely with nailing the diagnosis. We ought, also, to point to a prescription. Political problems require political answers and an important first step in getting to one, of course, is a more complete understanding of the nature of the problem. But we should also remember that we are talking about political consequences that will have a real impact on the lives and futures of our friends and fellow citizens (to say nothing of ourselves). Given that reality, there is also something to be said on the side of duty; duty to look beyond the problems and toward solutions.
After last night, I am more convinced than ever that the conservative political problem is at once rhetorical and intellectual in that it has failed to connect with the people in such a way as to lift them up to understand as well as love their country. The post-60s Liberal problem might be said to be a reverse of the conservative one in that it offers an understanding of America (that it is an incorrect understanding is beside the point) but it has failed--at least until, perhaps (oddly) this year, to give convincing evidence of love for country. I recognize that this is an odd thing to say, in a way. In a year when the Democrat candidate appears to have connections to questionable people who have expressed more than one variety of deep-seated contempt for America, Conservatives ought to have been able to make a convincing case that Obama did not, in fact, love his country. But this assumption misses the fact that Obama and Conservatives are talking about two completely different things when they talk of love for country. Conservatives made a mistake in thinking that it would be sufficient (to say nothing of possible) to tie Obama to the contempt of Wright, Ayers, and even Michelle.
Obama claimed not to share the sentiments of his more hate-filled associates even as he embraced them as something of a piece with the American experience; a piece of the fabric of our lives. He tells us that he loves America because he is capable of loving all things and, especially, of loving those things that he thinks can be "changed" or made to serve something called progress or--even less dogmatically--"the future." His love letter to America may, in fact, be a love letter to himself. But it should also be remembered that Obama, in embracing Wright at the same time that he distanced himself from Wright, gave every other American permission to write themselves a similarly self-indulgent love letter if only they agreed to come along and be a part of this important moment in our history.
With Obama, you are entitled to your weaknesses and to your cynical narrow interests--especially if you can put them to work for the purposes he believes will move us forward. The only thing you are not permitted to do or to be is someone who is retrograde or reactionary in Obama's view. If your own particular brand of weird opinions do not permit you to move forward with the rest of the country shouting "Yes We Can!" from on high, then you must be defeated. And Obama will not blink as he sets about defeating you. If Conservatives and Republicans fail in this election--as appears now to be the trajectory of events despite some cheering poll numbers--I believe it will be because in recent years (when, by the way, we had ample opportunity to do otherwise) we have failed. We have failed not to prove that we love our country but, rather, to give a satisfactory and compelling explanation of why we love our country.
For good or ill, it now seems clear to me that Barack Obama understands himself to be offering both an understanding of and a reason to love America. Remember that he described his "A More Perfect Union Speech"--where he addressed the question of the Reverend Wright--to be a "teaching moment." From Obama's point of view and if you share Obama's views, this was exactly the right way to understand the situation. He rightly saw the danger and, instead of seeking to mitigate it, he embraced it as he embraces all things. He made it his opportunity.
It is not sufficient to argue that his brand of "love" for America amounts to a condemnation of America as we ought to understand it. This assumes too much. People are looking for a way to understand their country and no politician today can assume that he's working from a pre-existing or deeply held understanding that is healthy at the start. Our educational system has made sure of that. So there is no way for a politician today--particularly an American politician--to speak in short hand about his love of country and putting his "country first" and expect that people will understand him as he understands himself. He is obliged to teach.
It is true that this simpler and older expression of love for America still has some massive appeal (it's not for nothing that Sarah Palin drew crowds of 60,000 + and inspired a two-week surge in the polls for McCain) but good as that was, it required a follow up--an explanation or an understanding of itself that could have been shared with the American people and would have translated itself into confidence in our ticket. People need to know that a candidate thinks he knows what he is doing and why he is doing it. They need to know that a candidate has confidence in his understanding of his purpose. This is why people think Obama is cool. He has that confidence. I think he is wrong to have that confidence because he is wrong in his understanding of America--to say nothing of the character of Americans. Unfortunately, the argument about why he is wrong has not materialized in any public way that was sufficient to our purpose. It may be--though I cannot say for certain--that this has to do with a lack of understanding about that purpose at the top of the ticket.
Having said that, however, I understand that the odds against McCain and Palin (and we don't really need to review those) were stacked heavily against them. Their instincts in responding to the onslaught from Obama and those seduced by him in the media were not entirely wrong and we should be grateful to them for the few high points in the campaign that pointed to hopeful signs on our side (including some healthy fundamentals) and, at the same time, speak volumes about the problem. That there was so much energy stirred by a young, attractive, and conservative governor from America's Western Frontier who exuded a kind of manful (yes, I understand and appreciate the irony in that term) independence is a massive fact that ought not to be forgotten as we move forward. And that a humble guy in Ohio named Joe could come closer than any politician in this election yet has done to causing Barack Obama to lose his "cool" and inspiring the hearts of the American people is also not an insignificant fact. Starting here, we might begin to build a more resonating case for ourselves as we look ahead both to the Congressional races in 2010 and, of course, for a more serious challenge in 2012.