Monday, September 22, 2008

How's Your Glass?

In measuring support for Barak Obama or John McCain during this most interesting of Presidential campaigns, the number of ways to slice and dice American votes are endless. Daily, the deep demographic divisions among us are reinforced by the relentless reporting of segmentation polls.

The strength test of both political parties is often portrayed as “blue” states vs. “red” but this year we’ve added “purple” states to the mix -- those states that are so closely divided they could swing either way.  Then there’s white vs. black vs. Latino, college educated vs. not -- closely linked to white collar vs blue collar. Regional differences are also plotted - – the Midwest, Rocky Mountain States and South vs. New England and the West Coast. And gender-related polls always illustrate some interesting differences, whether simply male vs. female, or sliced even further by age group. Then there’s one of my personal favorites, urban vs. rural: if one gets down to the county level in studying recent past national elections, even in the red states the large urban centers of those states are generally blue.

But this year, the rhetoric I’m hearing from both the candidates and dialogue among voters makes me think there’s another, more fundamental phenomenon going on here -- and my observation is this: are we people who think our glass is half full or do we think it is half empty?

McCain is doing a great job of tapping into the post 9/11 fear, economic uncertainty, resentment, and anger of many of our citizens -- the holders of the half empty cup -- deftly turning intolerance, exclusivity and a lack of curiosity into virtues, making the Presidential contest one of  ‘us’ vs.’ them,’ the ‘haves’ vs. the self-perceived ‘have nots,’ the flag pin wearers vs. those who choose not to. How the Republicans can do this is a great conjurer’s trick in my mind: by playing on all of the above the champions of less government (but always biased towards big business), free markets and unfettered capitalism – the very concepts that serve to keep the ‘have nots” that way as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer – get people to vote for that which is not in their best interest.

Obama tells another story. He speaks to what Ross Robertson, poet, journalist and utopian operative has called “the frontier mentality...all about grit, curiosity, and unrestrained optimism.” In Obama’s world it’s about being our best selves, it’s about abundance -- our glasses are at least half full -- there's more than enough for all. It’s about differences in race, gender, religion and sexual preference being meaningless because we are all citizens (and caretakers) of the same interconnected world. As trite as it may sound, it’s about the American Dream, that hope and belief in a better future is not only a good thing – it is a real possibility if we take responsibility for it. And, last but not least, it’s about ensuring that Americans continue to live in a country of laws, laws that uphold the constitutional liberties that mean the difference between living in freedom and living in tyranny.

So I ask you, how's your glass?

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