Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, They Did.

I can't say that I was completely surprised that Barack Obama won the election yesterday. After all, anyone living in Chicago, as I do, could see that the city was virtually unanimous in its support of his candidacy, with the exception of a few diehard Republicans such as myself. Anyone who was aware of the overwhelming support of Obama's campaign by the national news media understood that John McCain had a huge hurdle to overcome in order to win. Also, George Bush's extremely low job approval rating undoubtedly played a big role in the results, notwithstanding John McCain's repeated efforts to point out that it was he, not Bush, who was running on the Republican ticket this time around.

In any election, loss is always a distinct possibility, so people have to learn to deal with loss in a mature and gracious manner.

What bothers me, though, is the kneejerk way in which most African-Americans voted for Barack for reasons pertaining to his race, rather than seeming to care much about Obama's record as a politician or his positions on the issues. Listening to the comments which were made over and over again by various African-Americans, both on TV and within my own immediate social circles, it seemed that Obama's race was the number one factor which caused them to vote for him. In many cases, I strongly suspect that it was the only factor.

I understand why many African-Americans have felt that the election of a black president represents a victory and a milestone. Historically, black folks have long felt disenfranchised and underrepresented by the political system in America. On one level, I am happy for them, because I do understand that they deserve to have an equal shot at leading this country. Perhaps the election of Obama will help to improve the racial climate in this country by showing some cynics just how far America has come with regard to racial issues. Perhaps incidents such as the LA race riots which took place during Clinton's administration are less likely to occur in the future. I hope that's the case.

But I confess that I am disturbed by the huge disparity between the attitude of many African-Americans and the attitude of a historical figure they claim to greatly admire.

Martin Luther King said, in his justifiably famous "I Have A Dream" speech, that he dreamed of a day when men would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Ironically, it was the color of Obama's skin, not the content of his character, which caused most African-Americans to vote for him. Never mind that he had a record of opposing Illinois legislation written solely for the purpose of preventing infanticide. Never mind that he supported gay marriage, which threatens the ability of the nuclear family to maintain the cohesion which is the source of community stability. Never mind that Obama had been closely associated with scumbags such as Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and Jeremiah Wright, often enough to raise serious questions about whether or not Obama had shown good judgment throughout his life.

These were matters of substance which should have deeply troubled thinking people with strong moral convictions, but they were overlooked because Barack Obama was young, handsome, charming and articulate. His calm and reassuring manner made voters feel that he couldn't possibly be a bad person. Never mind the solid evidence to the contrary.

America survived Bill Clinton, and it will probably survive Barack Obama, too. But I am saddened by the realization that there are so few Americans who care about whether or not our laws and public policies are consistent with the historical American values in which we profess to believe. Instead, self interest seems to be the predominant factor which motivates people to choose the candidates they choose.

As a person who has struggled financially for many years, and who continues to struggle, I have a measure of sympathy for those who base their votes, in part, on perceptions pertaining to the likelihood that particular candidates will increase the chances that they will experience prosperity. But presidential greatness is not measured solely by whether or not a president improves a nation's economic prosperity. If that were the case, Abraham Lincoln would be widely despised, not widely admired, because his presidency was a disaster from an economic point of view, especially (but not exclusively) in the South, which was economically devastated by the Civil War.

As a person who received official status as a conscientious objector in 1974, when I was called before the draft board in my home town, I have a measure of sympathy for those who base their votes, in part, on perceptions pertaining to the likelihood that particular candidates will hasten the end of war and bring peace to the nation. But presidential greatness is not measured solely by whether or not a president leads the nation into peace. If that were the case, Abraham Lincoln would be widely despised, not widely admired, because his presidency was a disaster from the standpoint of issues pertaining to war and peace.

In fact, there were far more American casualties during the American Civil War than there were during other American wars.
One web page says that there were 623,026 casualties during the American Civil War, versus 4,177 for the war in Iraq. So even if one is merely talking about raw numbers, the number of Americans who died during the Civil War was roughly 149 times the number of Americans who have died in Iraq. But that doesn't really capture the true scope of the discrepancy between the two wars. Remember, the overall population of the United States at the time (roughly 30 million) was only a small fraction of the current population of this nation (roughly 280 million). In other words, the casualties of the Civil War represented more than 2% of the entire population of the United States at that time, and that was during a war which actually lasted just four years (versus roughly 5.5 years for the war in Iraq). If 2% of the current population had been killed during the war in Iraq, making those casualties statistically comparable to the casualties of the Civil War, that would have been more than 5.5 million casualties! That idea is mind boggling.

Whatever else might be said about Lincoln, one certainly could not refer to the man as a bringer of peace. In fact, many claim that it was his first electoral victory which sparked the attack on Fort Sumter. Lincoln had to sneak into Washington D.C. in order to escape the first assassination attempt (which, fortunately, did not succeed).

It also bears mentioning that George W. Bush never instituted any type of involuntary military conscription, so all of the soldiers who have died in Iraq since the war first began were there of their own choosing. By way of contrast, the
New York Draft Riots were the first riots of their kind in the United States, in direct response to the military draft imposed by Lincoln. And it wasn't just the fact that people were being forced to serve the military against their wills which led to those riots. It was also the perception that the draft was unfair to the poor, since people who had the money to do so could ostensibly pay a $300 commutation fee in order to obtain an exemption from the draft. So when folks accused Bush of being insensitive to the needs of poor people after he dragged his feet when responding to the crisis in New Orleans, it wasn't the first time that such charges had been leveled at a Republican. Lincoln had to deal with such accusations during his own presidency.

As a person who loves liberty, I have a measure of sympathy for those who base their votes, in part, on perceptions pertaining to the likelihood that particular candidates will respect the civil liberties of all American citizens. But presidential greatness is not even measured solely by whether or not a president respects the civil liberties of all of the nation's citizens. If that were the case, Abraham Lincoln would be widely despised, not widely admired, because his presidency denied civil liberties to select Americans, when Lincoln declared martial law (in 1863) as a wartime measure. In fact, resentment in connection with that act was said to be one of the primary motivations which led John Wilkes Boothe to assasinate Lincoln.

In fact, if one were to objectively judge Lincoln's presidency solely according to the same criteria which Democrats have used for judging the presidency of George W. Bush, one would have to call Lincoln one of America's worst presidents --- far worse, by all of the aforementioned measurements, than Bush. Yet, paradoxically, most Americans now regard Lincoln as one of America's best presidents.

Was Lincoln a great president, or have we all been brainwashed by years of exposure to romanticized propaganda? I think that it largely depends on how one defines presidential greatness.

Peace, prosperity and maximization of civil liberties are all desirable things, but none of those things are what makes a country truly great, nor are they the things which make for great presidents. The measure of a nation and its leaders lies first and foremost with whether or not that nation has integrity. Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. People of integrity do not practice one thing and do another. When they claim to believe in certain principles, they act as if they actually believe in those principles.

The United States was founded on a set of principles, first expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and later expanded upon in the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. The foundational assumption, from the Declaration of Independence, was that all "men' were created equal. (In the language of that era, it was understood that the term "men" also incorporated boys, girls, women and all other variants of the human species.)

I believe that Lincoln was indeed our greatest president, in spite of all of the negative factors cited above, because Lincoln had a deeper understanding than most men and women of what was at stake in the Civil War (in terms of the future of democracy), and he had a deeper understanding than most people of the necessity of integrity for any nation which would claim the moral high ground, as our nation historically had done ever since the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

Slavery had to be abolished if our nation was to become a nation of integrity, because the philosophical premise of slavery was that all men were not created equal. Therefore, public tolerance of the institution of slavery made a mockery of the documents which formed the philosophical foundation for our new nation. Most people who did not have a personal vested interest in the continuation of slavery understood that this was so.

As I see it, the premise which is used to justify legal abortion is likewise a contradiction of the premise of the equality of all human beings in terms of their innate value.

Why do I care so much about public issues pertaining to the sanctity of human life? Because I want this nation to continue to be a great nation, and to become an even greater nation than it is already. America cannot honestly claim to be a great nation if we Americans do not respect the most fundamental right of all --- the right to life --- in a manner which shows no unnecessary partiality to certain people (such as adult women) at the expense of others (such as unborn or newborn children).

One would think that African-Americans, of all people, would understand this better than anyone else, in light of their history of being treated as if they were not equal in value to white people. But one would be wrong, judging by current attitudes which are prevalent in the black community. Instead, they seem to be willing to dance on the graves of innocent unborn children and infants if they feel that an alliance with people in favor of abortion and infanticide will help them to achieve their objectives in terms of social advancement and empowerment.

Fortunately, there are exceptions to that generalization, such as Alan Keyes (who, in my judgment, would be a much better president than Obama). There are black men and women, such as Thomas Sowell and Mildred Jefferson, who have not mindlessly jumped on the Obama bandwagon. Such men and women understand that when people promote policies which contradict the idea that all people are of equal value, they jeopardize the philosophical and moral foundation upon which the civil rights movement was built.

Not long ago, a guy living in a room next to mine said that the election of Obama meant that black folks had finally reached the "promised land" to which Martin Luther King alluded in his last public speech. If the "promised land" is one in which all people will be judged according to their character, then I think that he is seriously mistaken.

Men of good character do not refuse to oppose infanticide (or to oppose abortion, which in my view is morally indistinguishable from infanticide, since I am unpersuaded by the argument that unborn children lack the qualities which are prerequisites for legal status as people who are worthy of protection). Men of good character also do not promote morally destructive practices such as gay marriage (which is why I am glad that Proposition 8 recently won the approval of the majority of voters in California). Unlike Barack Obama, men of good character do not regularly associate with men of demonstrably low character.

Like all men, Barack Obama has the potential to be a great man. In terms of his intelligence and his personality, he even has the potential to be a great president. But he will not fulfill that potential unless and until he repudiates some of the positions which he has taken in the past --- especially issues which pertain to the right to life, without which all other rights are meaningless.

I wish that I could see that happening in the near future, during Obama's first administration, but I don't think that that's likely. Even though our city of Chicago now celebrates Obama's election, it's likely that I will always remember November 4, 2008 as a day of great sadness for our nation.

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