All Together, Now
By William Raspberry
Monday, August 2, 2004; Page A17
America -- or at least that portion of it tuned in to the Democratic convention last week -- fell in love with Barack Obama.
As they say, what's not to love? The guy is a bright, handsome, charming and articulate embodiment of all the good things America imagines itself to be -- and, from time to time, actually is. I'm reminded of how America used to love Colin Powell.
But I think there was something else in Obama's message that turned people on, even if all of us haven't quite figured it out. His keynote speech managed to take the hostile fragments into which we've been broken by political operatives and the media and start putting us together again. He reassured us that we weren't the only ones to see the possibility of our living together, not in political lockstep but at least as mutually respectful neighbors.
"The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states," the young U.S. Senate hopeful said in one memorable passage. "But I've got news for them. We worship an awesome God in the blue states and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."
The political marketers have become so adept at finding America's fault lines that they have almost convinced us that we are mindless elements of a jigsaw puzzle, incapable of complex beliefs. If we take religion seriously, then we must be undereducated bumpkins with no appreciation of the Constitution or science. If we believe the government has a duty to protect the weakest among us, then we must be silly tax-and-spend liberals.
Obama was saying: It's not that simple.
And my conservative Republican friend Ed Chinn was saying from Fort Worth: "My gosh! I so resonate to that. I hope his comments catch on like a prairie fire through the land.
"I hate the imposition of the marketing paradigm on our culture. We've segmented the audience into demographics for the purpose of selling products and ideas. But in the process of that, we're Balkanizing the whole country. I despise the red and blue model.
"The more basic issue, though, is that we've become blind to and are trampling the human treasures right before our eyes. . . . We're all in such a reactionary mode that we never actually listen to anything or anyone. We just race to the categorization of where we think they're 'coming from' and then quickly accept or dismiss them, based on our own bias."
The wonder isn't that Chinn -- Southern and white -- should find a sort of soul mate in Obama -- whose roots are Kenya and Kansas and whose skin is black and whose politics are left of center. The wonder is that it should surprise us so that two men of principle might find something to agree on (or at least to have a respectful debate about).
Don't most of us live in communities, or move in circles, or work in places where we have friends -- good friends -- of differing political persuasions?
Ed Chinn reminds me -- as Obama reminded the nation -- that our common humanity must be allowed to trump the things that would drive us apart. Thus Obama could express real concern for a poor elderly person forced to choose between paying the rent and buying prescription drugs, "even if it's not my grandparent."
And thus Chinn could say: "I personally don't care if a person is liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, gay or straight. Everyone carries God's signature (even if it takes a while to find it). And everyone -- everyone -- is looking for the same thing: love, forgiveness, security and a sense of personal worth. If we could ever realize that, we could become agents of redemption in a cold, cold world.
"Instead, we're slowly eroding our fundamental humanity. We've become so merchandized that no one even gives a genuine damn about people anymore. So I say: Go, Barack Obama! I may even vote Democratic this year."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company