Like most 30 year old urban professionals, I am completely thrilled with this election season. I am awe struck by Barack Obama’s ability to navigate the shaky political landscape that has been set before him. Between the unnecessary or ill planned wars, economical travesties, the class warfare, and the never ending battles over the government’s role in legislating morality, there are so many tangents to get lost in. Barack seems to navigate them so effortlessly. What impresses me most about him is his ability to explain color in this country. Not the black, or the white, the brown, the blue or the red, but the all important and encompassing gray. Yes, the gray area in between the dead end corners our political parties, religious views and ethnic loyalties paint us into. When it’s all said and done, more and more Americans are comfortable stating, or finally fully understand, that most issues we deal with in this country come in ambiguous shades of gray.
It’s hard getting excited about gray. Technically, it’s not even a color, but a shade. It is drab and inconspicuous; you can’t slam your fist down and proclaim it. You instead have to shrug your shoulders, in acknowledgment of the complexity of our world. Most people in blue states, or blue cities swamped in a sea of red, are forced to deal with conflicting views and perspective of the world on a daily basis. Major metropolitan cities like here in D.C., where the flags of Ethiopia and El Salvador, and Kenya, and India, and Iraq, and South Korea swirl around to make a true American flag, we understand the concept of nuance. Where mosques, and synagogues, churches, cathedrals, temples and other places of worship are all crammed into a tiny space, we are forced to recognize the common good in our paths to spiritual enlightenment. Where one block takes you from poverty and violence to affluence and frivolity and we are forced to reconcile hard work with hard luck.
Here we understand the truth to be stable, simple and plain, but seen through the veil of every ones separate and fluid reality it can appear in a myriad of ways. We understand how religion conflicts with reason, but see how it bolsters our spirit where reason has not supplied answers. We understand the power of branding, of 30 second commercials, with slogans, mottos and tag lines, but realize that any real solution to a question is long and drawn out, with caveats and variables. We are accustomed to answers that cannot be boiled down to catch phrases or repetitive chants like “drill baby, drill”. Even though we want the sun to shine bright, we go outside looking for the shade. There is a comfortable median in gray.
We do not live in a world where we see circling “all of the above” as a lack of decisiveness. We understand that between conflicting views lies the truth. We don’t waste time arguing nature versus nurture, or big bang versus intelligent design, socialism versus capitalism, and good versus evil. We accept the fluidity of reality, not as some new age, eastern “yin yang” philosophy. We understand it to be reality. Obama answers questions carefully and measured. He leaves room for change, retraction, and addendum as the situation requires it. That might be what we admire about him as a politician more than anything, that he can be bring excitement, definition and energy, to gray.
Americans have seen what happens when their politicians paint with a broad brush. We’ve experienced what it’s like being racist xenophobes under the current administration. The inability to tell one Arab/Muslim/bad guy from the next allowed us to mistake Saddam Hussein for Osama bin Laden. The inability to see gray allowed us to miss the fact that nothing is more unsettling for a secular dictator than a religious zealot, no matter what your ethnicity or geographic commonality is, and therefore any alliance between them was ridiculous. I understood that, thousands who marched around the world before the Iraq war understood that, Barack understood that too.
Americans are tired of being treated like children. We are tired of our politicians thinking that we cannot understand the finite detail of world affairs. We understand that all of our friends and allies aren’t saints (Saudi Arabia, Israel etc) and we understand that our enemies are not the spawn of Satan (Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea). We understand that we make alliances of convenience, and that the civil rights violations and potential threats a country might bear against us are always weighed against their value as trade partners and strategic military allies.
Die hard republicans are exasperated because they believe that they haven’t yelled Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers and Tony Resco’s names loud enough. They don’t believe what is really happening, that Americans HAVE looked at Obama’s associations and have decided that we are tired of caricatures and unrealistic expectations. We understand the black church’s need to be a political and social force, and to remind it’s congregation of this countries past transgressions, so as to stay on guard for new ones. We also understand how a man can be overwhelmed by his position of ecumenical power and forget to speak with clarity and wisdom. We understand that it is possible to enter into a righteous cause with someone, who unbeknownst to us has, at one point, committed unrighteous acts. We understand that if you do enough business, with enough people, you will eventually do business with a criminal. We haven’t blindly turned away from Obama’s nefarious associations; we understand these associations as a gray reality of dealing with people. We understand that if you have never interacted with someone of questionable character or intentions that it is more of a reflection of you not expanding your circle, than some remarkable “spidey sense” to be able to stay away from evil.
That is why we are not encouraged by McCain’s bold claims that he can capture Bin Laden, but are instead fearful of that level of arrogance and certainty. That’s why we are not swayed by McCain’s cries of Obama being a socialist, because we understand that capitalism unchecked is cannibalistic and must be tempered by human hands that put people above profit. That is why, at the last debate, we stood in awe, as Obama offered an olive branch of working together to reduce unwanted pregnancies instead of bickering over the issue of abortion. More than any other argument, this one needed to be painted gray, a color McCain refuses to see, because his base responds only to black and white, red and blue, good versus evil.
There is a large but shrinking violet part of the country that is comforted by absolutes. They hear, speak and see no evil when it comes to God and country. They sleep easier knowing that communists and Muslims are bad guys and that the poor slacked their way into homelessness. Their religious leaders fail them, the beloved free market turns on them, and their military might fails to protect them, yet they cannot see that any absolute in this life is destined to disappoint. The rest of us see the absence of black or white, and long for a leader who brings us together, to explain the gray.