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Atonement

by Bud McClure

I would rather stand with Obama in defeat, than stand with Clinton in victory. Every once in a while in life and in politics, we get a clear choice to do either the morally right thing, or to continue to cut corners and believe that the end justifies the means. We should have no illusion about this choice after following Bush's road to the White House in which all of the ugliness and hatred he fostered on the campaign trail followed him and us through the last eight years. Now we are standing at that crossroads again watching the unfolding drama and contrasting styles of two Democratic candidates.

Hillary will get in bed with anybody. She has no internal moral compass. Her only choice is what is politically expedient. Her recent gas tax holiday proposal, an idea borrowed from fellow conservative McCain, is so stupid that I am surprised she can defend it with a straight face. Then I consider that it has no substance, it is just another means to an end for her. There are countless other examples that have made her appear harsh and arrogant, bullying in tone, threatening and menacing, pandering to our fears instead of inspiring our hopes. She knows that this works, and gleefully embraces it no matter whom she harms. The clearest example of her political calculus was her vote for the war in Iraq. Like Kerry and Edwards who were also anticipating runs for the White House, she jumped on the war wagon, because she thought, like most insiders, it would be over quickly, and her vote would make her a more credible candidate on national defense. It would also make her look tough! But toughness is not something you have to prove; it is formed by a constant adherence to principled positions that form one's moral center and cannot be buffeted about by political winds. My own senator, the late Paul Wellstone, showed what that center looked like when, in a tough reelection fight, he voted against the war, and for his ourage and consistency of message his popularity surged ensuring his re-election.

Obama has shown this kind of courage, too. He resists the temptation to get in the mud with Clinton when it would be the politically expedient and the expected thing to do. He resists her taunts. He does not infantilize voters. He does not pander to fear and he remains unwavering in his determination to win by the means that he believes will be necessary to govern this country. He is now being tested in this firestorm swirling around him. In the inferno ignited by his former pastor and fueled by the media, Obama has remained steadfast. He is undeterred by the ugliness of racism and continues to move with the confidence of a man who is grounded in a strong and principled sense of self. There is a basic decency about him that one catches in his smile and the spontaneous way in which he interacts with crowds. There is a steely determination reflected in his eyes that gives us a clue to the character behind them. He inspires and speaks to our higher nature, recognizing that underneath our fears and spitefulness we are basically a good and generous people. For these reasons alone, I would rather stand with him and lose, if necessary, than win however possible.

But the most important reason to stand with him is that his election in the fall would give us a chance for atonement, to get back what we have lost over the past 25 years through a politics of division and hatred, where our government has been corrupted for the benefit of the very few; where the common good has been denigrated by a narcissistic worship of individualism and the wealth of our nation has been measured only in economic terms. Moreover, we might make amends to the rest of the world by electing a president who leads with humility and does not need to prove himself by killing others. We could atone for our warring ways, for torturing and terrorizing others, and for promoting hatred around the world. We could talk to our enemies, find common ground, share the world's resources, promote the general welfare, and regain our place as a country with a basic regard for the well being of all human beings. Rather than talk about Christian principles, we could put them into practice beginning with loving our neighbors. This is the hope and dream that Obama engenders in me. It is refreshing, and even surprising that at the age of 60, I could once again be inspired by a politician.

Bud McClure is Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He welcomes your emails at bmcclure@d.umn.edu.

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