Dare I believe Obama can win?
His idealism brings out the best in me – and in others. So what happens if he loses?
| Brooklyn, N.Y.
Like so many Americans, I feel as though I am holding my breath.
Could the quiet seed of joy that was planted in my heart the day I heard Barack Obama speak for the first time take root and grow without fear of the brutal storms of disappointment?
Could a leader that evokes awe in me actually win a presidential election? Could the beauty – and logic – of his words win over the majority of this country's voters? Could they see past the lies and distractions to the center of a human being who sincerely wants to invoke citizens' higher selves?
Could a system that seems so broken, so moneyed, so corrupt actually serve to help the American people elect an authentic, complex thinker? Could it be that – despite all that is wrong with the electoral process – there is enough right to allow a thoughtful candidate to get through the muck and emerge earnest and excited to lead?
Could the inspirational, not aspirational, America that I was raised to believe in – Eleanor Roosevelt with her Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. with his dream, and John F. Kennedy with his "ask not" encouragement – be the America that I live in?
And finally, and perhaps most profoundly, could this country reflect the best within me?
There is part of me, I admit, that is fearful and self-focused and, worst of all, cynical. She understands why people stay home from the polls. But there is another part of me that is courageous and compassionate and, best of all, idealistic. If Senator Obama is elected, I feel as though that best part of me – the best part of all of us – will be given permission to lead.
As Nov. 4 nears, I feel heavy with internal struggle and dangerous anticipation.
I have never voted for a presidential candidate who has won, much less in an election that wasn't considered potentially corrupt. I have never gone to sleep on Election Day with a sense of accomplishment, with the satisfying congruency of my values and those of the country's leader merging as one.
I have never woken up the next day without a deep, wide sadness, without a sense that my country doesn't reflect my dearest beliefs, that it actually mocks my youthful enthusiasm for the political process and commitment to following my political heart.
Now I watch Obama, a leader who articulates my own ideas and intuitions with the most eloquent grace, on the brink of a presidential miracle. His words about the critical nature of cohesive community, about injustice, about personal responsibility ring so true in my ears. But I'm scared to believe.
I don't think that Obama is a "messiah." I know that he has flaws, that he will fail in many ways, that the space between his ideals and his actions will often gape with a discomfiting hypocrisy, or at the very least, inefficiency.
But I am almost certain that he is good deep down, that he believes, as I do, that we could do better, that we could be better, that we are – when stripped of bureaucracy and alienation and skepticism – already better.
It is not his inevitable fall from grace that I fear. It is the possibility that on Nov. 4, I will find out that my acute craving for a kind and complex leader is not shared by the majority of Americans. That conclusion to this breathtaking story would tempt me, not just to be alienated from American politics, but from the American people. I fear that the worst part of me would bully the best part with cruel words: "I told you so. Hope is dangerous and naive."
But what would Obama himself say to that sentiment? I imagine he'd stay calm, in his top-of-the-lake-on-a-still-day kind of way. He'd remind me that his candidacy was never about him, but about me, about all of us. That it isn't his victory that confirms America's greatness, nor his defeat that disproves it; it's our own capacity to be resilient and committed to change every day, in all sorts of quiet, nonpresidential ways.
If Obama is elected, if I am invited to rejoice with the majority of Americans, the best part of me will have a chance to smile triumphantly at the worst.
Sometimes you believe in someone and they inspire you right back. Sometimes kindness and wisdom triumph over fear and brutality. Sometimes this country is as amazing as your wildest imagination of it.
• Courtney E. Martin is the author of "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" and a columnist for The American Prospect Online.