McCain and Obama: Old and New America
Election Day 2008 will be an epic reckoning between old and new America. For the first time, battle lines are drawn defining a divide not between left and right or Democrat and Republic but between those who see the US as a part, albeit overwhelmingly strong, of a global community and others who see it as a fortress besieged by the world.
Donald Rumsfeld’s derision of old and new Europeans turns out to be truer about the US than it is about the continent that first exported people to settle America.
The new Americans recognize and are trying to understand how the world is changing and how those changes are affecting the long-held givens of life as it is lived inside the US. The old Americans are struggling to build a mental Wall of China around their religious beliefs, traditional certitudes and economic advantages to which they deem entitlement simply because they are Americans.
If we believe McCain and the Republican Party, the old America is conservative and hardworking. It is inhabited by people who would put America first because of conviction in its greatness. Yet, they are ones in denial about the world’s increasing ability to stand up to their traditional grasp over most of the globe’s resources and wealth. They are trying to hide under the covers in bed rather than get up to work harder still to compete more successfully with the world.
In contrast, new America is confused about the country’s place in the world; the values it stands for and the role in should play in global affairs. It is inhabited by people who know what they do not like but cannot articulate what they do like and want to achieve probably because they have no clear ideas. They hope without knowing what exactly they hope for.
They seem to be like teenagers who want to improve on the works of their parents but do not know what is wrong and how to set it right because they are unsure of what they want to achieve as they grow up. They think in broad strokes without grappling with the tedious details that must be handled each day.
So far, Obama and his acolytes recognize that America’s most pressing problems cannot be solved only through domestic means because each has a significant international dimension. But they seem to know neither the parameters of each problem, whether global terrorism, climate change, energy or the economic meltdown, nor how to persuade all Americans to join hands for the domestic challenges and other world nations to cooperate for the global aspects.
Old America seems clearer and more resolute, although its agenda as articulated in the elections is woefully narrow. Sarah Palin is the latest nail hammering into this narrow box with her insistence that the real voices of America are those of beer-swilling rednecks from small rural towns. This old America seems to have rejected most of America’s urban dwellers and educated people as elitist, as if education handicaps American renaissance instead of accelerating it.
In contrast, new America as articulated by Obama and powerful web sites supporting him seems less focused and sure of itself. It seems to consist of desperate followers looking admiringly at just one person, whose ability to lead them through crises is untested.
As demonstrated by his 30 minute TV commercial, in the election’s final stretch Obama is still trying to demonstrate that he is “one of us” – a true Christian and American.
Meanwhile, McCain and Palin are still throwing epithets like Socialist and “not one of us” at Barack Obama and his supporters instead of advancing solutions with Republican determination to the worst security and economic challenges facing all Americans in 50 years.
Both Presidential tickets are approaching the last bend blaring similar messages of patriotism and devotion to Main Street America. Yet, instead of saying exactly how they will put salve on the pain of Americans losing savings, jobs and homes, they are engrossed in navel-gazing to define themselves and throw gratuitous punches at the opponent.
The irony is that in so doing, neither is serving their constituencies. Obama is sailing on a tide of desperate hope. Millions of Americans long disillusioned by the cynicism of politicians and the greed of big business are insisting on turning him into the knight in shining armor.
In turn, McCain continues to beat the drums of his warrior past even though the current battles for America’s future lie in its economic performance and the creative productivity of its people. His ticket and his Party seem to have forgotten that neither can be achieved if being a well educated person is treated as a stigma rather than a respected achievement.