Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Some observations on our more perfect union

Listening to Obama speak last night, I was very impressed by how inclusive he remained. "How can anyone not like this man?" I thought. Really: how can anyone not love him? He's a thoughtful, measured leader with a wide smile who didn't once choose valedictory giddiness over calm reassurance that he has a plan and it includes everyone.

Then I checked into Facebook and saw that a friend's status was "I'm so proud of my country right now." And I thought, "Oh my God: Obama is going to make it okay to be patriotic again." In recent history, it seems like Americans either Love America Without Question or hate America. This is, of course, artificial. But I think there are a lot of people who felt like any criticism of the US by its citizens amounted to treason. And a lot of people who felt like any vocalization of love for such a flawed country amounted to idiocy. I know: that's an over simplification. But my point is this: I think Obama has the potential to make critical patriotism okay, to unite the divide the Republican party has worked so long and hard to cultivate.

And now some observations that I don't really have time to weave into a narrative here, with like, transitions and linking sentences and stuff.

Observation 1) This year many GOP candidates (most notably, Sarah Palin) have been talking about a "Real America" and, well, they never really gave the other America a name. In the past, they've used the phrase "the blame America first crowd." In any case, the GOP has promoted the idea of two Americas who are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.

Observation 2) For the past decade (at the very least), the Republican party has actively worked to suppress the vote. They do not believe everyone is equally qualified to vote and would prefer two classes of citizens. While those two classes really amount to Those That Agree With Us (qualified) and Those That Don't (unqualified), they are also about class (upper class/middle- and lower class), race (white/non-white), age (older/younger) and location (central/coastal). It is another way of dividing American in two.

Observation 3) The Republican party was born out of a need for two diametrically opposed parties. Americans watched as the Whigs and the Know Nothings tore themselves apart from the inside over the issue of slavery while the democrats remained relatively intact. (At least this is my understanding of things.) The Republican party was anti-slavery. It drew a line in the sand and said, "There are two Americas." We interpret this now as an obvious moral distinction, "One is right and one is wrong," but it was an economic distinction as well. It was about the place of industrialization, modernization, states' rights, federal jurisdiction... The country was clearly heading for a rift and any party with a cohesive internal belief system was going to end up on one side or the other. The Republican party has been about choosing sides since its beginnings.

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