The hallowed editorial page of the nation’s Oldest College Daily hasn’t seen a whole lot of bipartisan good feeling in the wake of Barack Obama’s election. (“Historic romp to victory” would perhaps be a more accurate term, but I’m building consensus here.) While most of the country’s leading conservatives were eloquently congratulating our new president and retiring to squabble over the future of the Republican Party, Yalies were treated to a diatribe that managed to accuse more than half the American electorate of abetting terrorism, socialism and authoritarianism — all at once — simply by casting a ballot for Barack Obama. Then came the disgraceful personal attacks and absurd accusations on the News’ comment boards.
Yes we can (anonymously and viciously assault each other’s intelligence), and we did.
In the spirit of reconciliation, I’d like to reach across the aisle. Not merely to moderate conservatives like David Brooks, but all the way across, to the likes of The National Review and Fox News. Imitation being the highest form of flattery, my gesture consists of asking a question that has not been far from Sean Hannity’s and Rush Limbaugh’s lips in recent months: Who is the real Barack Obama?
The answer may disappoint those looking for more Ayers/Khalidi/Wright muckraking because, quite simply, the real Barack Obama is nowhere to be found in the living room of an unrepentant domestic terrorist. John McCain knows this, though his Sarah Palin-induced foray into extreme negativity belied the noble senior senator from Arizona that we once knew.
The real Barack Obama is far more complex than his associations. As he said on Election Night, to “the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy” and “to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn … I will be your president.” America’s president.
Barack Obama’s run to the White House drew upon the support of unprecedented numbers of Americans donating their time, their money and their ideas. (Cue allegations of campaign finance fraud from the fringe right.) Americans who had never before been involved in politics invested themselves personally in securing his election. The Obama campaign revolutionized the use of technology in elections, relying on innovation and creativity to reach as many voters as it could.
President-elect Obama has said on numerous occasions that he is indebted to no corporation or special interest. And it’s true. Thanks to Obama’s embrace of bold ideas and widespread popular support, he will enter the White House without the baggage carried by a typical new president. Bill Clinton LAW ’73, the consummate politician, was a perpetual slave to his own charisma. George W. Bush ’68, meanwhile, has variously been the pawn of neoconservatives, the religious right, corporate America and Dick Cheney. Obama is indebted only to America. Last Tuesday, he invited all Americans to contribute to his administration.
The real Barack Obama is the person that Americans have seen on the campaign trail for nearly two years: an intelligent and open-minded man, able and eager to evaluate ideas, gifted at explaining them and skilled at marshalling support. The man we have elected president will not and has not shied from consulting ideological adversaries (Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel and conservative jurist Richard Posner ’59, among others) in order to refine his own thinking. He has invited us — those who voted for him and those who voted for his opponent — to contribute our own ideas and our own energy.
After Obama’s victory in Ohio eliminated John McCain’s last path to victory, Yalies took to the streets to yell “Yes we did.” The words were misplaced. To treat Obama’s election as an end is to deprive our next president of the ideas and energy that he has invited us to contribute to his administration. To be sure, our ideas won’t be as accessible to him as those of Joe Biden or Rahm Emanuel. But a man whose campaign succeeded thanks to historically broad and active support is in no position to turn away from the people when the time for governing arrives.
In the end, the great tragedy of the vitriol we have seen lately exists because overblown rhetoric and false accusations provide nothing new in the way of ideas. America is a nation founded not on one idea but on a succession of them, each building upon the last. We’re about to have a president who, by most accounts, values innovative and creative thought. As Americans — and especially as young Americans who belong to an institution that exists to further the pursuit of ideas — Obama’s election is too valuable an opportunity to ignore. Sometime in the future, rabid partisanship may return to our country. For now, we may have a fleeting chance to replace it with something better.
Xan White is a senior in Pierson College.