Liberals are feeling pole-axed.
A blatantly racist ad run by John McCain last week now has him tied with Barack Obama.
It’s unfair, they scream. Obama has to be like, like Jackie Robinson to have a chance.
Exactly. But he can be. He must be. That’s what we need now.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leaders. There was nothing usual about Abraham Lincoln. There was nothing usual about Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were nothing like the other men of their time. Lincoln was preternaturally tall (probably due to Marfan Syndrome), a galumphing man with an incredible sadness about him. Roosevelt had a terrible secret — he had not been cured of polio — so he lived a life separate from 99.999% of his fellow Americans.
We face a crisis of equal magnitude to those crises, a crisis as searing as the Civil War or the Great Depression. There is no economic recovery in sight. There is no hope for the world in the oil which fueled the 20th century. Our entire nation must be remade, and so must our entire world, if either is to survive the challenges we now just dimly perceive.
The magnitude of the troubles we face won’t be acknowledged this year, and possibly next. That realization will come on us slowly, during successive hurricane seasons, and droughts, through quarterly reports grinding us down slowly, through statistics showing that our aging is killing us.
It will take a man with the courage of a Jackie Robinson to get us through. And what’s clear in every Robinson biography is just how much courage the man had to have, to get through 1946 and 1947. The courage to be a man he was not.
Robinson was actually a man of very hot temper, a proud man who did not take slights well. Yet he faced more, and took more, than any man of his time. It was not until 1948 that he could even begin to act like himself, a competitor in the mirror image of Ty Cobb, the hardest-working man in baseball, daring pitchers to throw to third, then stealing home under their noses.
That’s what Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party, face today. It is still 1947 in much of America. Our closet racism will come out at the slightest provocation, and the Ben Chapmans of today will not hesitate to use it in order to maintain power.
We are all being tested. The candidate, the voters, all of us are being tested. Do we shrink from the test or do we welcome it?
One of my son’s favorite books coming up was Pete Hamill’s novel Snow in August.It
features a figure out of Jewish mythology, a Golem, and a young Irish
boy seeking to find his courage. I’m not giving too much away when I
point out that the most telling thing the Golem does, in that imaginary
spring of 1947, is to wrap himself in cloth (for modesty) with a button
reading, simply "I’m With Jackie." It’s the kind of button that was
being sold a lot around Ebbet’s Field in those days, a button worn
mostly by black Brooklyn fans. But its wearing by other fans, white
fans, Jewish fans, Irish fans — gave it the most power. It took some
courage for a white man to wear such a button in that springtime.
Just as it will take courage for Democrats today not to panic, to
face down the modern racists, with their code words and their quick
denials. Just as it will take courage for the candidate himself to
avoid the bait, to stand straight and tall for his beliefs, among them
the idea that the American people are not that stupid, not that racist,
not as easily manipulated as the pollsters (or many Democratic
operatives) feel. Not this time.
Elections are choices. We trust the people to make the right choice.
Will they, in the end, choose the code words of John McCain, the closet
racism which has ruled us all since 1968? Or will we say, no, not this
I’m with Barack. And I believe that, when the history of our time is written, people will be amazed that there was any doubt.