L ike many Democrats I was moved by Barack Obama's call for national unity at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Obama hit all the right notes in a speech aimed at the higher essence of what it means to call ourselves Amerians:
Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
What impressed me about Obama's speech was his understanding that all the things that divide Americans are dwarfed by all the things that we have in common as Americans. The speech was Rooseveltian in this sense. Indeed; I found myself nodding along and thinking to myself that this man is going to be President some day.
Obama seemed to understand that the politics of divisiveness are powerful enough that he needed to acknowledge them right off the bat. Obama could hardly be called prescient in this regard. The Swift Boaters for Truth had just rolled out their slime campaign aimed at John Kerry's war record and the ghost of the 2002 election in which practically every Democrat running for national office was accused of being cowardly and unpatriotic regardless of their record, was still fresh in our minds. How clever does one have to be to figure out that Karl Rove would run a dirty campaign?
Although this message was delivered to Democrats it wasn't aimed at Democrats but rather the larger audience of unaligned Americans and Republicans that might be watching. I'm making an assumption here, of course. There seems no reason to exort Democrats to put their political interests aside and work for the good of the country as a whole. They had already demonstrated their willingess to do this on inumerable occasions after the 9/11 attacks. By supporting President Bush our Democratic representatives had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the party came second when it came to the good of the country.
Would that this was reciprocated or that the Republicans would have listened to Obama.
Instead the Swift Boaters ran their course with little rebuttal by the national press, the President squeaked back into office and immediately set out attacking a cornerstone of the New Deal in his attempt to destroy Social Security. More divisiveness. More "your either with us or the terrorists" nonsense. The war in Iraq, both in concept and execution of strategy, was labeled as beyond criticism. Republican politicians, and some Democrats such as Senator Joseph Lieberman, were more than willing to go along with branding their political opponents as traitors if they dared to question the necessity of the war.
So it was a little surprising to see that Obama throwing his support to Lieberman last night at a rally in Connecticut. Lieberman's willingness to embrace the politics of anything goes when it comes to the critics of the war in Iraq just doesn't seem to fit with the vision of American Obama had presented the nation at the convention. In Lieberman's world there are no "patriots that opposed the war in Iraq" only those of us who "...undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril." Lieberman wants to divide us in the worst way possible and to his own expedience.
I don't expect our elected representatives to support us 100% of the time. Politics is the art of compromise, or at least it used to be. Barack Obama should vote his conscience on the issues that come before the Senate.
But if he wants to be President some day he cannot compromise on his vision of America. He just lost a ton of credibility in my eyes by throwing in with Lieberman. We're either all in this together or we aren't. You can't have it both ways.