Progressive Revival

We must brace ourselves for the ugliness of the next thirty days.  Senator McCain’s campaign brazenly announced its intention to “get tough” with Senator Obama.  Sarah Palin led the charge, condemning Obama for his association with “terrorists” like Bill Ayers.  Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday also declared with a bit of disdain and desperation that McCain had to “get tough” with Obama and this included vehemently denouncing his association with Jeremiah Wright.  Such proclamations reveal a desperate campaign, indeed a campaign in crisis.

            However, McCain’s crisis–and we must be forever mindful of this–takes place within the broader crisis our nation currently confronts. And what worries me is that in such moments, ugliness – where the darker regions of our souls overwhelm common decency – finds expression and threaten the sanctity of our democratic ideals.  When Americans have historically confronted calamity, we have found the resources to respond courageously, but we have also allowed deeply-rooted prejudices to undermine our democratic commitments.  We draw hard lines between those who are considered one of us and those who are not. We need only remember Japanese internment during World War II or the brutal profiling of Arab Americans in the aftermath of 9/11.  We find comfort in narrow provincialisms and often respond violently to those whom we scapegoat as the source of our misery.  Our long and brutal racial past reveals this unseemly underside of who we are as Americans. Scapegoats are as American as apple pie.

            McCain’s latest efforts seek to raise serious questions about Obama’s character, about his place among us.  The campaign will use innuendo and outright lies to paint Obama as somehow radically Other.  Cavorting with terrorists and an angry, militant black preacher – he can’t be one of us.  And the characterization, they hope, will stick, because Americans are scared. Many are losing their jobs, their homes, their prospects for the future. And in these moments, ugliness can reign. The pressing question, and each and every American must grapple with it, is whether or not we have matured enough to resist finding security in our fears – a security which allows those who seek power for power’s sake to steal away in the darkness of the night with our best hopes and aspirations.  My prayer, and we are desperately standing in the need of prayer, is that we will muster the courage to reject this latest assault on our senses and get about the real work of responding to the crisis of the nation.

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