Lets have a look two TV ads. One for McCain and one for Obama.
Notice the way McCain (very politely) denounces those who want to “spread the wealth around” and asserts that “your savings, your job, and your financial security are under siege.” Notice also how this ad is directed at those who already have: they have savings, jobs, security. There is some mention about how his policies might create new jobs for others, but the driving philosophy is clearly to protect those who are already secure.
I don’t think that this ad explicitly plays the American exceptionalist “card,” but it seems designed to appeal to that demographic.
Now…lets have a look at the ad for Obama:
Notice the emphasis on themes like the need for quality health care and national unity. Obama’s vision of the America of the future, overidealized though it may be, is not about preserving and protecting the privileges of those who already “have,” but finding a way where we can all share in the American dream.
I picked these ads, because I think they are typical of each candidate’s overall political philosophy, based on everything else that I know about them.*
They tell two very different stories of America’s future. The first story goes like this:
People want to take from you. If you don’t act quickly and decisively to stop them, then you may lose your financial security.
In short, this is a story about fear – fear of losing what you have.
The second story goes like this:
Instead of “cashing in” on the things that we have, what if we take them and devote them to making people’s lives better? Rather than dividing ourselves against each other, lets find ways to move in a new direction so that we can all share in the blessings that our nation enjoys.
It is a story about national hope. It takes pride in our culture and system of government, to be sure, but it doesn’t seem geared toward the ideas of national privilege that dominate exceptionalist thought.
There is no guarantee, of course, that either candidate can accomplish what they promise. With a recession looming, with the potential for layoffs and declining values in investments, and considering that he may be working with a Democratic majority in the legislature, McCain may not be able to do much to prevent the erosion of personal assets for most Americans. Likewise, Obama may find that it proves much more difficult than he imagines to implement meaningful social change in a deeply divided country.
However, if I have to take a chance on one or the other, and in light of my new, provisional political philosophy, it is not difficult for me to know which “story” I will pick. I choose the one that provides hope for everyone, including those who have less than I do – or even nothing. I will take that chance when I vote.
I could continue to break things down on an issue by issue basis, but I wouldn’t be adding much to what I’ve already said. Both candidates have good ideas about dealing with the Iraq war, the financial crisis, the environment, and health care, among other things. If he loses the election, I hope that McCain will continue on as an important voice in the Senate. He is needed there. However, if I have to pick an overall vision for the future of the country, I pick a vision that is about inclusion, openness, and care for the vulnerable.
…which will bring me – in the next post – to what I know for many of you is the most important issue in the election: the very difficult issue of abortion.
*In selecting these ads, I’ve specifically avoided the so-called “attack” ads – those that are designed to motivate the voting base of the candidate by creating hostility toward the opponent. The distortion of the opponent’s positions and affiliations in such ads is often deplorable, and both sides seem to be equally talented at generating these abominations.