Monday, November 03, 2008

Thoughts on Tomorrow's Presidential Election

A very simple prayer I try to say as often as I can is as follows:

God, I give you thanks and praise for my life just as it is.

Of course, it’s a prayer that is quite a challenge to say when things are not going so well in my life. Yet even during times of frustration, difficulty, and/or sadness, I say this prayer with as much conviction as I can muster. And as I do so, I remind myself that it’s not the outward circumstances of our lives that define us, but how we choose to respond to these circumstances.

Accordingly, I believe that one transforming response to any and all circumstances in life is gratitude - gratitude for simply being alive and open to the full range of human experiences and emotions. Intrinsically related to this response is another: trust - trust that God will guide us in awareness of God’s transforming presence and action in the many and varied experiences of human life.

I said this simple prayer last night, aware of the range of emotions within me that have been brought about by a number of things, including some troubling news from Australia about my Dad’s health; a disappointing development in a relationship I’d thought had held promise; and the excitement and trepidation about tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election. It’s this last event that I’ll be focusing on in this post.


I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that tomorrow’s election will be one of the most interesting and pivotal we’ve seen in several generations. And as regular readers of The Wild Reed would know, I’m hoping that Barack Obama will be the next U.S. president.

As a “legal alien” I cannot vote, but if I could I’d be casting my vote for the Obama/Biden ticket. (And, as a Catholic, it would seem that I’m in the majority in supporting the Democratic ticket. Recent polls, after all,
indicate that Obama is leading among Catholic voters).

Of course, Obama is by no means perfect, and there’s certainly no guarantee that, by himself, he’ll herald the change that this country (and the world) so desperately needs.

Patrick Martin, writing for the World Socialist Web Site readily acknowledges that “tens of millions of people are going to vote for Obama in the hope that this will lead to a rapid end to the war in Iraq and to domestic policies that promote jobs and decent living standards, as opposed to the unrestrained profiteering by big business and the wealthy fostered by the Bush administration.”

Yet Martin also offers words of caution, concerned as he is that after “capitali[zing] on popular hatred for President George Bush and mobilized working and young people on the basis of calls for ‘change’ and ‘new politics’ and invocations of the ‘fierce urgency of now,’ Obama and the Democratic leadership are taking pains to reassure the ruling elite that if they win the election, they will carry out a thoroughly conventional and conservative agenda that upholds the interests of the financial aristocracy.”

Obviously, even with an Obama win, we’ll have work to do.

Paradigm shift

Yet, despite the legitimate concerns expressed by folks like Patrick Martin, I’m hopeful - hopeful that with an Obama administration in charge there will be a much greater chance that the paradigm shift that I believe humanity is on the edge of will indeed be acknowledged and perhaps even realized.

Obama alone won’t be responsible for this shift, but he may well play a crucial role in ensuring that it happens – which is more than can be said for John McCain.

So what “paradigm shift” am I talking about?

Well, I’ve long believed that humanity is at the cusp of a new level of consciousness. I believe we’re moving towards what some have called “planetary consciousness,” a greater awareness of our interconnectedness with one another, with other forms of life, and indeed with the planet as a living entity.

I believe that, collectively, humanity has developed sufficiently enough to now engage in this fundamental shift in consciousness; to proactively engage in a range of interconnected movements away from realities such as greed, war, and mindless consumption to justice, peace, and sustainability. I’m not talking about the establishment of some kind of utopia, simply a society that lives up to basic democratic values such as fairness and respect, and a world where our brother Jesus’ good news of justice and compassion is more readily evident and realized.

Again, I don’t believe Barack Obama is some kind of messiah who will embody or necessarily lead us all single-handedly to this new society and world. Nevertheless, his administration will, I’m sure, be more aware and open to the need for such a shift than would be the government of John McCain and Sarah “drill, baby, drill” Palin.

Accordingly, a Obama administration would, I believe, allow for those who can facilitate this shift - the activists, the innovators, the artists, the dreamers, and those who in the past have been marginalized and discounted - a voice and a role in policy formation and thus the change that Obama understands is needed.

And as Ken Brociner
notes: “On so-called social issues, Obama’s election will almost certainly lead to America becoming a more decent and fair society by ensuring equal rights for women, African Americans, Latinos and gay people.”

Bigger than Obama

Related to these thoughts on tomorrow’s election is my conviction that a win for Obama will be so much more that the election of one particular person. Don’t get me wrong, the election of the first person of color would be huge, but I also think that this victory would mean something bigger than Obama. His election would signify a shift in the psyche of this country, a momentous shift and one that would obviously be part of that broader shift in consciousness I refer to above.

The nation will cross a threshold, a new frontier, with the election of Barack Obama tomorrow. It could well mean that the rule of the old rich white man (and all that these labels imply) will have been broken. And as James Carroll perceptively notes, “Race, gender, and class define American identity, but Obama, just by being who he is, directly challenges the core assumptions that undergird each category.”

In Carroll’s view, “John McCain neither faces these challenges, nor offers them.” Instead, he “embod[ies] the one-dimensional verve of the gladiator, he reinforces American notions of manliness. A man of the establishment, scion to military aristocracy, and spouse of great wealth, McCain is social stratification come alive. As a white man, he is the racial norm. Race, that is, does not even enter the mind as a note of his identity – not his mind, or the voter’s. On gender, class, and race McCain is deeply of the status quo.”

Yet Carroll observes that for many people, “Barack Obama, in himself, invites America to a new depth of meaning, in each of these three dimensions. That is why his candidacy is thrilling – and so unnerving.”

Yes, change is both exhilarating and scary.

I said at the beginning of this post that the thought of tomorrow’s election leaves me feeling both excited and anxious. I don’t want this country to miss the wonderful opportunity it has of, well, basically growing-up, of becoming something so much richer and deeper than it is now.

I mean, just think of it, on so many levels there would be no going back after an Obama win. Such a win would, as I said, signify a new level of consciousness, one that could potentially move this country beyond the era of racial division, “culture wars,” and that expression of conservatism that has seen the destructive combination of the economics of greed, a culture of indifference, and the politics of fear, Without doubt, such a combination of forces has been devastating for the vast majority of humanity and the environment. We can’t go on like this anymore. We need change - a change in our thinking and in the ways we interact with and respond to one another and the planet. People - and young people especially - recognize this. And Barack Obama is the most viable candidate in this presidential election to recognize it too. That’s hopeful.

Yes, without doubt, my friends, we’re living through an amazing time – a time of great potential and promise. If Obama wins tomorrow I’ll be a happy man, though one who will remain acutely aware that the election of no one person to the White House will solve all our problems.

Yet this particular man, Barack Obama, may well provide an opening for truly progressive influences, embodied in all sorts of people and movements, to infuse and inspire the citizens of this nation and the world to move forward in ways that increase hope, justice, and peace.

May it be so.

But, come what may from tomorrow's presidential election, I hope that upon hearing the result I will trustfully give thanks and praise to God for the gift of life and for the many opportunities (both joyful and challenging) that it provides for embodying God’s love in the world.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Obama Leading Among Catholic Voters
Catholic Democrats
Progressives and Obama (Part 1)
Progressives and Obama (Part 2)
Progressives and Obama (Part 3)
Progressives and Obama (Part 4)
Progressives and Obama (Part 5)
Obama a Socialist? Hardly
Reality Check
Historic (and Wild!)
One of Those Moments
An American Prayer

Recommended Off-site Links:
In the Age of Transformation, Obama’s Time Has Come - Johann Hari (The Independent, November 3, 2008).
Progressive Income Tax Supported by Catholic Social Thought - Mary Barron (National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2008).
World Closely Watching US Presidential Elections - Ali Kotarumalos (Associated Press, November 3, 2008).
Old Dreams, Present Opportunities - Ken Brociner (In These Times, November 3, 2008).
Obama’s Grandmother Dies a Day Before Election - Herbert A. Sample (
Associated Press, November 3, 2008).
Obama on Election Eve: A Guy Who Expects to Win - Nedra Pickler (Associated Press, November 3, 2008).
Obama, McCain Both Promise Change on Election Eve - Beth Fouhy and David Espo (Associated Press, November 3, 2008).
Campaign Myths That Haven’t Gone Away - Calvin Woodward (Associated Press, November 3, 2008).
World Hopes for “Less Arrogant America” - Matt Moore (Associated Press, November 4, 2008).

Images: Obama signs in my neighborhood (and my attic room!) and signs in the window of Tree House Records in Minneapolis - November 3, 2008.


kevin57 said...

Michael, if you were honest, you'd be voting "Green Party." That's the party with which you are in far greater alignment.

Don't use the "That's throwing a vote away." In this election--and in virtually all others--all votes are 'throw aways' in that no one vote "makes a difference." Besides, someone of character does not base such fundamental decisions of conscience and conviction based on pragmatic considerations.

Michael J. Bayly said...

The Green Party? Why not the Socialist Equality Party?

Actually, Kevin, probably due to getting older and my reading of the works of Doris Lessing, I can at this point in my life honestly say that there’s a time and place for pragmatism.

And I’m in some pretty good (progressive) company in saying this and, as a result, supporting Obama in this presidential race. How good a company? How about Howard Zinn, Norman Solomon, and Leslie Cagan & Antonia Juhasz. By the way, I consider all of these folks to be people of character.

Kevin, there’s no way we’re going to take this country from the Republican Party of Cheney/Bush to, say, the Green Party in a single election. But an Obama win is a step in the right direction. Incremental change is still change, and a pragmatic approach can be an honest one.

And since we’re talking about honesty, may I ask who you will be voting for – and why?



Michael J. Bayly said...

Cornel West is another progressive (and a person of character) who is supporting Barack Obama.

I saw West on Bill Maher's Real Time show on HBO last night.

The segment of the show featuring Cornel West can be viewed here. It's worth watching.



Anonymous said...

I read your post this morning, went out and voted straight Republican. McCain/Palin '08!

Anonymous said...

Well, Anonymous, it's November 5 and aren't you the loser.