Baran: In ’08, it’s the issues, stupid

Perhaps it is overly dramatic to say that this year’s presidential election is nothing less than the fight for our future—we’ve been told so about every election in the past. But now the truth of the statement is inescapable.

With an economy in turmoil and on the brink of total disaster, it falls to us to do everything we can to make sure that in the next eight years we start on the path to rebuild our country – repairing and replacing our infrastructure, finding good solutions to the housing crisis, transforming our broken health-care system, and ending the war in Iraq as well as our seemingly endless “war on terror.”

Of course, as anyone who’s read my columns in the past knows, I do not believe Barack Obama alone will be able to solve every one of our problems. After all, many are the products of a long series of changes in our economy – a result of many years of widening income inequality, free trade policies, and a decline in union density — and Obama doesn’t always stand in the progressive corner. (Just recently, the senator highlighted his belief in the war on terror as a framework for making foreign policy today.) However, I do believe he can get us moving toward a radically different future. But we, not he, must be the ones to imagine what that future holds.

In the past two weeks, it’s been difficult to see the stakes in this election. Governor Palin has managed to distract us with her vibrant personal narrative. She has successfully eclipsed the concerns driving this election and helped John McCain surge ahead in the polls. We shouldn’t be surprised by this latest development—though it has left many of us scratching our heads—as the entire race, from the primaries forward, has been a battle between tremendous life stories.

Despite the most positive climate for Democrats since Watergate, we could easily lose if the election remains fixed in these personality-driven terms. Instead, we must — as Obama did in his convention speech — stay focused on the issues. We must pose the fundamental question to ourselves and others: what kind of country do we want to live in, and what kind of future do we want for our children?

Anyone who believes that Americans don’t care about the issues is kidding themselves. People have an acute sense of the conditions of their own lives. I can personally attest to that fact, having spent my summer canvassing door-to-door in working-class neighborhoods with the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a non-profit organization here in New Haven. Surveying people about economic issues and registering them to vote, I saw and heard from people struggling to get by and pushed to their limit by impossible economic circumstances. People were eager to talk to me, and not just about what was wrong, but about solutions, about what they want to see change in their lives.

If progressives can keep voters focused on the promise of a better future, rather than on what’s going badly today, we can win this election hands down.

It is not only Obama who needs to take up this challenge. He and other progressive candidates will only win if we all do our part to ensure victory. It’s time for each of us to go out and share our visions of the future with others, to keep the glimmer of a better world alive in the eyes of our fellow Americans, here in New Haven and beyond.

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