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Who, Me?

My brother Ryan has been working full-time as an Obama campaign volunteer for the past few weeks, and likely will until the election. He wrote this op-ed and asked if I’d want to post it here. So here ya go, bro.

Feel free to interact in the comments. I’ll try to get Ryan to come around and answer questions.

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Who, me?
by Ryan Hubbs

Barack Obama has repeatedly made the statement that “this campaign is not about me.” McCain’s call to “Country First” echoes a similar sentiment. However, each candidate, by virtue of their negative attacks in recent weeks, seems convinced that the election is, at least in part, about their respective opponent. Which presents the question: who is this election about, anyway?

Senator Obama has an incredibly compelling – and uniquely American – personal narrative that transcends some of our deepest national scars. Senator McCain has a long and honorable record of service and sacrifice for his country. And both candidates, despite their magnified circumstances, are simply two Americans among millions of others who have fought, struggled, worked, and sacrificed against the odds.

Senator Obama, I believe, holds the better position on the issues; he recognizes that we have the opportunity to lead the world in developing the future of energy, that we have a moral and economic imperative to improve the access to and efficiency of our healthcare system, and that our current foreign policy is misguided and counterproductive. All of which are ideas the American people largely support – and Obama unquestionably possesses the superior ability to articulate his positions.

Some I’ve spoken with abroad – with the “outsiders perspective” – are surprised that the race is as close as it is. Many McCain supporters back the candidate due purely to their support for his political positions. But there is a large segment of America wants to vote for a candidate who is “like them,” and there are millions of Americans who will never be able to identify with Obama’s Harvard-educated, multi-racial, professorial persona. But even the person who can identify the least with Obama possesses a keen sense of the motivations that a candidate is trying to tap into in order to gain their support.

His impressive abilities aside, Senator Obama’s ideas and outlook are what brought him from the relative obscurity of the Illinois legislature to the world stage in a few short years. His appeal to our better instincts – the “Audacity of Hope” – and assertion that “what is wrong with America can be solved by what is right with America” mirrored his own personal story and tapped into something profound in the American psyche, giving us reason to believe that we could, against the odds, escape the infighting and cynicism that is suffocating our country and achieve something better. Because of this appeal to our better instincts, though, Obama – consciously or not – dedicated himself to playing by a better set of rules. McCain has not.

The McCain camp is currently banking their success on the appeal to peoples’ baser instincts. The absence of positive advertising in swing states mirrors the negativity demonstrated at his town halls, which has been tipping from frustration to mob-like anger. Even the head of McCain’s Virginia campaign compared Senator Obama to Osama bin Laden, stating, “they both have friends who have bombed the Pentagon.” A comparison this ludicrous would be laughable if it were not so potentially dangerous. The assertion that Obama’s participation on a charity board with Bill Ayers – a current university professor and former Chicago “Citizen of the Year” who was a violent ‘60s radical during Barack’s childhood – links Obama to bin Laden is as ignorant and baseless as suggesting that Chairman Mao and John McCain are comrades because of their mutual ties to Vietnam.

The Obama campaign, good as it has been, has missed some opportunities. When McCain first aired his now infamous “Celebrity” ad painting Obama as nothing more than a tabloid starlet, disparaging his energy plan and casting doubt on his leadership abilities, Obama had a great opportunity to elevate the situation by focusing on the issues and refusing to get drawn in to the politics of personal destruction. The retaliatory ad dubbing McCain a “Washington Celebrity” showed a willingness to let McCain set the tone of their campaign, which didn’t help burnish Obama’s still developing leadership credentials. Obama is taking a higher road than his opponent by continuing to run a large number of positive ads – but his campaign is also running several times more TV spots than McCain.

The prevailing wisdom of campaign strategists – one of our more cynical classes – is that failing to respond to attacks in-kind is political suicide. Attacks are inevitable though, and whether we are governing a country or simply ourselves, our response to unfair and malicious attacks can do more harm than the attacks themselves. Iraq and Guantanamo, for example, have cost us more in lives, money, moral authority, and, arguably, national morale than the attacks of 9/11. There is a way to respond to destructive actions without emulating the outlook and approach of the attacker, and the leader of the free world can’t wait for their opponents’ consent to work towards something better.

While I believe that Obama has the superior solutions to our national problems, the starkest, most accessible distinction that Obama can draw in this final push is to take every available opportunity to encourage people to vote for him rather than to against his opponent. His appeal to our better instincts has propelled him to one of the highest positions in the country, and personal story and skills have given him a once-in-a-generation chance to transcend some very deep-seated divides, change the nature of the political discourse, and to repudiate the prevailing Lee Atwater principle that “people vote their fears.” Acquiescing to the prevailing political norms, while it may not change the outcome of the election, could reduce his potential to that of an above-average national politician and hurt his ability to inclusively govern once in office, which will be essential in creating lasting, positive change in America.

The simple answer is that this campaign is about us. While there are a regrettably large number of exceptions, most Americans want the chance to believe in something better, to have a reason to cast their ballot in support of their hopes rather than their fears. It’s why Obama is where he is. And I sincerely hope that he takes the “risk” of giving America every opportunity he has to do that the rest of the way. After all, it’s not about him anyway.

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