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He Said She Said: Barack Obama

By Kevin Robinson in News on Mar 3, 2008 4:07PM

It's quite possible that the fat lady will sing for Hillary Clinton tomorrow. Or not. Sometimes politics is like baseball: you never know what's going to happen. Voters in four states will make some pretty important decisions tomorrow: Will Clinton go on to Pennsylvania? Or will her campaign end tomorrow night in a series of defeats in big, critical states? Will Barack Obama assume the mantle of the presumptive Democratic nominee, and will the GOP get the fight they have been both anxious to begin and cautiously planning for?


A debate broke out in the Chicagoist offices last week over what Obama and his candidacy really stood for. Chicagoist columnists Kevin Robinson and Margaret Hicks make their case for and against all of the change and hope that Barack Obama has been talking about, and that Hillary Clinton and John McCain have been disputing. Yes We Can? Ready to Lead on Day One? What do you think?


I feel like I've stepped into a time machine, and gone backwards 16 years. As the Democratic primaries sweep through the states, we're hearing about change we can believe in, people are saying Yes We Can. Our nation will be unified, a sea of purple states united under a common theme of moving forward, national reconciliation and hope. Ending the war in Iraq, building a stronger future, and health care for all. A different kind of politics in Washington.

Those are ideas that I can get behind. I want to believe, really I do. Except that nobody can tell me what any of it means. Maybe I should back up a little bit here. I worked on Barack Obama's campaign when he ran for US Senate in Illinois. I carried his ballot access petitions before the primaries in 2003. I talked to voters on the South Side of Chicago about Obama. I told my friends and family about him, and why they needed to make sure that they voted for the black dude with the funny name. Like many Democrats in Illinois, I followed that race until the Chicago Tribune destroyed Jack Ryan's political career. And I smiled when Alan Keyes got the nod to run, a cynical ploy to divide the black vote and drive the Illinois GOP further to the right.

Barack Obama's keynote address at the Boston Democratic Convention that year was electrifying. I was, that night, proud. Proud that I had voted for Obama, proud that I was from Illinois, and proud that my city had produced someone so special. And when Bush won re-election that year, I felt a sense of hope that at least we had Barack in the Senate, the staunch anti-war Democrat that was going to fight for working people in Washington.

2008_3_obama_means_hope.jpgNo sooner than he had picked out new curtains for his office, then people started talking about an Obama presidency. And that's when I started to worry. Not that he didn't have the experience. No new president really knows what he's doing, so experience wasn't an issue with me. If he can come from Chicago and win the US Senate, he can handle the White House. No, I worried because I didn't know what his candidacy, and therefore his presidency would stand for. In fact, Obama's meteoric rise reminds me of another Democrat, one that I believed in fiercely when I was younger: Bill Clinton. In 1992 he came onto the scene, packing school gyms and union halls, promising a new day for America. He drew comparisons to John F. Kennedy and Camelot, a generational shift in the American political paradigm. He backed his message of hope up with his compelling life story: a father he never knew, a single mother who beat the odds to bring up her son. Black audiences, in particular ate it up. Four elections later, and its Barack Obama fending off accusations of inexperience, thrilling a new generation, his rallies staffed and fired up by teenagers and students, just as Clinton did 16 years ago. And now its Obama who has made hope his own.

I don't see much difference between Obama and (either) Clinton. They're both liberals, ideologically, two peas in a pod. Clinton is, perhaps, more liberal on social issues and Obama maybe more liberal on economic issues. Other than the terms of withdrawing from Iraq, there isn't much divergence between their platforms. And the narrative that has emerged this election year illustrates that. Clinton is running on experience, Obama on change. Whatever that means.

Now that my guy has dropped out of the race, I hope Obama gets the nomination, because I think political dynasties are bad for our democracy. And I hope that if he does win, he surrounds himself with good people that will promote all this change that he keeps talking about. Regardless of who wins the nomination, I'm not going to support the Republican. I might still vote Green, assuming that Illinois is safely a blue state as far as the White House is concerned. (It is.) But until I see substance, until his supporters can tell me what kind of change we're really talking about, I'll remain skeptical of Barack Obama for President.


I'm not here to sway opinions. If you don't support him now, you either won't, or you will find your own way there. I am here to try to answer critics' questions, since they seem to have more than a few problems with our new president (hee). Critics want to know what Obama "stands for." They seem to have missed that Obama lists his platforms just as Hillary and McCain do, but somehow, his is lacking. They feel like he's hiding something, or that the something isn't there at all. Yet, I can look at Obama's opinions on issues as easily as I can look at Hillary's. And you know what? They are a lot alike, so as a Democrat, it is up to me to judge the candidate on a different level, a personal level. Somehow this gets attacked too, as if we shouldn't base some of our decision on whether we actually like someone or not. We humans happen to be very good at judging goodness and truth and honesty from just looking at someone's face. It's one of our evolutionary advantages, but somehow where Obama is concerned, this is considered wrong.

People want to know what "change" means. They ask "how EXACTLY is he going to bring this country together?" He's already doing it. His wins in the Potomac Primaries prove that he is rallying a nation. He is motivating young people to get out and vote (oh, and isn't this all we've ever wanted! YOUNG VOTERS) and they're doing it! Kevin says he wants to see the "change", touch the "change" and until then, he will remain skeptical. Well, you're looking at change, you're experiencing it right now. Have you ever seen a presidential election filled with so much interest? So much passion? Coincidence? Obama is uniting us, even if you don't plan on voting for him, you must see that he is stimulating action.

2008_3_she_said.jpgI am a romantic. I admit it. I get passionate about beautiful language and a beautiful speaker and utopian ideals. But there are actual facts to back up my support of Obama in the first place. For me, the most important sticking point is that he wants truth in government. And after all the lies, isn't it time? He wants the American people to be the watchdog of our government. He wants to release presidential records. He wants to make sure that all corporations who get tax breaks can be seen on the internet. He wants to make sure that any non-emergency bills that are raised are available for five days for public viewing before they are voted on. Just like the State of Illinois building was built to bring government closer to the people, so Obama's campaign is meant to do the same thing without all that horrible salmon color.

What a freeing feeling to be voting on faith, passion, creativity and honesty; a presidential candidate should inspire no less.

Plus, I want to see what happens! I think I know what would happen with Hillary. It would be a lot like it was, there will be a lot of partisan bickering in the House and the Senate. Hillary will push for health care reform and it will never get passed. The people that are antagonized by her will continue to be, the people that love her will continue to. Even if Obama fails miserably, (and I don't think he will, he's already shown us he can rally support) by god, at least it will be something different.

Can we actually be a part of what goes on in our government? Can we be inspired by a man who has lived all over the world and helped all kinds of people? Can we be satisfied with a first lady who might actually be sarcastic and hilarious once in awhile? Can we put a man with faults and mistakes and the ability to meditate on those mistakes into the White House? Can we believe, for just one minute, that this man is everything he appears to be? Can we let our hearts for one second hope, that this time, things are different?

I think you know the answer.

Say it with me, cynics.

Yes we can.