Countdown

Commentary: Center Field

I don’t remember counting down the days before an election the way I’m doing this year. Others are doing the same thing. Last Friday night outside D.C.’s Lincoln Theatre, as fans arrived for the Reel Affirmations film festival, I found an old friend who was a proud Hillary Clinton supporter selling Obama Pride T-shirts. The crisp, autumn air has brought Democrats the smell of victory.

We’re a long way from last January. Back then, a prominent, progressive gay blogger asked me whom I supported for president. ”Obama,” I replied. He was incredulous.

”Do you really think a black man can get elected?” he asked.

”I don’t know,” I said, ”but I plan to vote for him.”

”Most white people will never vote for him,” he assured me. One of many satisfactions from an Obama victory will be the disposal of smug dismissals like that one.

Of course, there are still naysayers. Some gay conservatives have taken to accusing Obama’s gay supporters of neglecting the California No on 8 campaign by donating instead to Obama, as if we cannot do both. I sure hope those critics have given No on 8 all the money they would otherwise have given John McCain.

Another conservative charge is that Obama will be to blame if Prop. 8 wins, because polling suggests that the increased African-American turnout for Obama will break disproportionately against marriage equality. These critics avoid mentioning the salient fact that the same poll shows Democrats breaking in favor of marriage equality, and Republicans against. Instead of exploiting ballot initiatives for cynical sniping, the Nobamacons should be educating their fellow conservatives about the concept of equal protection of the law.

Speaking of conservatives, it is satisfying to see so many of the most illustrious abandon the McCain ship. McCain’s operatives still seem not to have noticed that their over-the-top attacks fall flat because they are so at odds with the Barack Obama that people have been watching for two years. Last week, Sacramento County, Calif., Republicans removed a call to ”Waterboard Barack Obama” from their Web site after their own state party leaders were offended. Others inevitably get into

the act, like blogger ”clifylq” at LiveJournal.com, who stated in August that ”Obama is a Gay Muslim.”

The lunar-orbit quality of such attacks was captured on Saturday Night Live when the McCain Rally Lady wandered onto the set declaring that Obama ”is 50 percent Egyptian, he’s going to change the White House to a pyramid.” The desperate, tone-deaf hatefulness of the right-wing robocalls and ads perfectly illustrates the scorched-earth politics voters want to change.

Not long ago, many Democrats feared Obama’s preternatural calm would leave voters cold, and urged him to get hotter. But the financial crisis put Obama’s cool demeanor in a new light. Now it is seen as a key presidential trait, while McCain’s shoot-from-the-hip combustibility reminds voters that eight years of cowboy politics have not made them feel safer. Last week, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks compared Obama’s self-assurance to that of figures like FDR and Ronald Reagan, who ”rise with an unshakable serenity that is inexplicable to their critics and infuriating to their foes.” Obama’s smooth blend of thoughtfulness and elegance recalls a classic jazz orchestration with Duke Ellington at the keyboard.

Obama has set a new standard for grassroots organizing, his operations in red states promising to boost down-ballot Democrats and help build a governing majority. At the same time, his history of respectful outreach across party lines reflects his ambition for transformational wins instead of the usual petty Washington gamesmanship.

Obama’s more supple and confident approach has considerable appeal after eight years of a president on a mission from God who only talks to people who agree with him. The greatest benefit of an Obama victory might be prying open the ideological echo chambers into which so many across the spectrum have retreated.

Last Saturday night I encountered a couple of young women holding signs reading, ”Stop Bitchin’ and Start a Revolution.” I haven’t the slightest interest in starting a revolution, nor do I need tips for creating change from people who fervently reject any candidate with the remotest chance of actually getting elected. The pursuit of power may be a morally fraught business, but romanticizing disempowerment is no improvement.

Lose the drama. Give us Obama.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum, www.indegayforum.org. He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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