Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Audacity of Being Vulnerable

Telling the truth, having a conviction and revealing onself to the point of being vulnerable. Are these the qualities of a politician? If they are not qualities of a politician we may know currently, are these traits a politician should have? If he/she should have them, what purpose do they serve? Do they serve to keep themselves in power (which as Machiavelli says is what every politician should make his/her number one goal), or do they serve to help the politician administer well?

Today political pundits will do lipservice to these traits and tout them at elections. Actions being more than words the measure of our intentions, their work behind the scenes would contradict their platitudes. In the US, we are at a point where people are looking for authenticity and are still confused as to whether what they are getting is the real thing. They look at Obama and want to propel him forward to the Democratic nomination for the presidency; their perceptions about the Clintons as being duplicitous and power-driven contributing as much to this as their liking for Obama's 'audacity of hope'. They want to look inside and discover an American ideal, the ideal that sometimes shows up in reality but more often remains something to be grasped at by straws. As Obama described it in his keynote at the 2004 Democratic Convention:

"I'm not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance
that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the
health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about
something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire
singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores;
the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the
hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid
with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of

The Clintons' strategy to counter this has been to point out that experience matters and the idealism of youth can only take us thus far. I believe though that people want convictions before experience. As Jesus said, "if the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" Whether true or not, the perception is that Hillary lacks conviction. Peggy Noonan keeps writing that her primary purpose is Machiavelli's classical line about the number one goal in politics- to stay in power. Much as that hope for gaining power, for toppling the Republican administration in the last election was the momentum for the Kerry-Edwards nomination (they seemed sure that the public dislike of the Bush administration would be enough to get them there), this time around the Democrats are searching their souls for genuine desire.

John McCain- the allegations of being a maverick, the most liberal among the Republicans and now a story of marital infidelity gnaw at his heels. While most Republicans want a change to the failures of the Bush administration, it seems surprising on the surface that they came up with someone whose objectives are to continue some of the policies that made the current presidency rate low in public approval in the first place. Mitt Romney sought to take a different stance, and so did Giuliani. McCain also has been a mixed bag for the social conservatives- prolife but pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control and distanced from the evangelical base of the party (so much so that James Dobson, long a king-maker, has refused to endorse him). Still they put him ahead of the others, and he has as much support among the evangelicals as does Mike Huckabee. It strikes me that his history and his sticking by his stated positions over the years has made him a preferable alternative to the others more than anything else. At heart the Republicans want conviction over everything else- even if it means making mistakes.

There is still more time to find out if Obama would actually win his party's nomination. If anything can be said for Hillary, it is that she is not a quitter. Be that as it may, this election is sure to bring genuine debate into public awareness. We are seeing convictions battle each other, not propaganda- I hope.

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