Sunday, October 19, 2008

We hear America deciding

With eighteen days left in the most momentous presidential campaign of our lifetime, the chattering class continues to couch the race between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain as still being too close to call. While technically that may be true, if you listen to the punditburo yammering about undecided voters and their possible impact on the contest, you only have to look elsewhere to get a real sense of where the campaign is heading.

Today's front page of The Huffington Post tells the story well. More than 100,000 people turned out today at a campaign rally for Obama in St. Louis, in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. Their presence there, the sheer numbers of people willing to devote one day of the weekend to witness a part of American history, speaks volumes in this jaundiced, jaded, cynical time.

As expected at least since The New Yorker backed Obama for the presidency (a first for the magazine), the mainstream print press has made its choice known.

The Chicago Tribune, a conservative paper that hadn’t endorsed a Democrat in its 150-year history, announced on Friday: “In recent weeks it has been easy to lose sight of this history in the making. Americans are focused on the greatest threat to the world economic system in 80 years. They feel a personal vulnerability the likes of which they haven't experienced since Sept. 11, 2001. It's a different kind of vulnerability. Unlike Sept. 11, the economic threat hasn't forged a common bond in this nation. It has fed anger, fear and mistrust.

“On Nov. 4 we're going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.

“The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States."

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The Washington Post spoke on Friday: "Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building. At home, we believe, he would respond to the economic crisis with a healthy respect for markets tempered by justified dismay over rising inequality and an understanding of the need for focused regulation. Abroad, the best evidence suggests that he would seek to maintain U.S. leadership and engagement, continue the fight against terrorists, and wage vigorous diplomacy on behalf of U.S. values and interests. Mr. Obama has the potential to become a great president. Given the enormous problems he would confront from his first day in office, and the damage wrought over the past eight years, we would settle for very good.”

“… Mr. Obama's temperament is unlike anything we've seen on the national stage in many years. He is deliberate but not indecisive; eloquent but a master of substance and detail; preternaturally confident but eager to hear opposing points of view. He has inspired millions of voters of diverse ages and races, no small thing in our often divided and cynical country. We think he is the right man for a perilous moment.”

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The Los Angeles Times, which hadn’t endorsed a presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972, weighed in (perhaps eager to counterbalance the sad historical resonance of that endorsement):

“We need a leader who demonstrates thoughtful calm and grace under pressure, one not prone to volatile gesture or capricious pronouncement. We need a leader well-grounded in the intellectual and legal foundations of American freedom. Yet we ask that the same person also possess the spark and passion to inspire the best within us: creativity, generosity and a fierce defense of justice and liberty.

“The Times without hesitation endorses Barack Obama for president.”

The Boston Globe got out in front of the others, making its endorsement on Tuesday: “The nation needs a chief executive who has the temperament and the nerves to shepherd Americans through what promises to be a grueling period - and who has the vision to restore this country to its place of leadership in the world.

“Such a leader is at hand. With great enthusiasm, the Globe endorses Senator Barack Obama for president. …

“As the first black major-party presidential nominee, Obama has strived to make voters comfortable with a ‘skinny kid with a funny name.’ And yet the historical significance of his bid is impossible to ignore. Voters can make no more powerful statement about America's commitment to inclusion and opportunity than to put forward this man — Barack Hussein Obama, son of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas — as the nation's representative to the world.”

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But that’s just the professionals clearing their throats, the way they reliably do every election cycle. What’s been striking this year — really for the first time — is the way the nation is making its feelings known.

We didn’t have YouTube in 2004, the year of the last presidential campaign. We do now. What it’s led to is a growing national consensus (if an informal census of campaign-related videos from individual Americans is an indicator) for a presidency that would, from day one, change the arc of the American identity.

They’re voices from everywhere.

They’re voices representing everyone.

The year’s been filled with divisive rhetoric on both sides. But right about now, finally, people are making up their minds, and speaking those minds to power. We can hear America shouting, laughing, arguing, praising, appraising.

We hear America deciding.
Image credits: Chicago Tribune: Pingping, republished under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license 2.5. L.A. Times nameplate: © 2008 Tribune Company. Washington Post nameplate: © 2008 Washington Post Company. Boston Globe nameplate: © 2008 The New York Times Company.
'Vox update: The New York Daily News today endorsed Barack Obama for president.

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