Can Obama be elected?
Can he actually win?
Is Bill Clinton right about the Obama fairy tale?
I am sick and tired of these questions. Yes he can! Yes we can!
Remember, a village in Texas has been missing its idiot for nearly 8 years now. If we can elect Bush president of the United States — not once, but twice — then we can elect a smart, powerful, uplifting mythical figure, too! It is now clear that a "C" student can start two wars, mess them both up, alienate the world, squander a $40 billion budget surplus and create backbreaking public debt. And while doing so, also manage to deepen the sense of polarization and cynicism regarding politics and our public lives.
So, when I hear these demands for greater specificity from Obama, and worries that he is a more a cult figure than a man of substance, I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Given the magnitude of the mistakes of the recent past, it is just laughable to think that Obama will not be able to move us in a much more positive direction on the foreign policy front. It is equally transparent to me that he can set a fundamentally different tone for political discourse and decision making.
What makes me want to cry is the difficulty some people, including otherwise liberal public intellectuals like Paul Krugman, are having with embracing a message of hope. It seems that some folks are so hemmed in by a comprised and falsely constrained discourse that they won't embrace what a growing number of Americans plainly see and passionately want — that we don't have to slog through the same old politics and fights. We don't have to remain in the mire. We don't have to go the low road. Hope is at hand.
I am old enough to remember the 1980 presidential election. I remember all the pundits who entered that campaign thinking America was never—never, ever—going to elect a grade B movie star president of the United States. It was only in the last two weeks before the general election that the centers of establishmentarian thinking took a hard look at the poll numbers and said, "Oh my God, Ronald Reagan may win. And in a landslide!" The rest, as they say, is history.
At that time, Reagan represented a movement, one that had felt closed out of even Republican politics for a long time. It was a movement that managed to capitalize on a political moment of deep frustration with the Carter years. That electoral success changed the national political landscape for a generation to come.
Today, Obama represents a movement, a movement on the center-left that has felt closed out of even Democratic politics for a long time. Obama can unite the Democrats, as the recent results in Maryland and in Virginia proved pretty dramatically. Just ask the expanding ranks of low-income, white men and white women who just cast their votes for Obama, too! Once elected, he will change the political landscape as well. And he can take on John "100-Year-War" McCain. It is a movement whose time has come.
Lawrence Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.