Saturday, October 4, 2008

The quality of intent: What is really at stake in the 2008 Presidential Election

What is the quality of your intent?

people have a way of saying things that shake us at the core. Even when
the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering.
What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words. When we
intend to do good, we do. When we intend to do harm, it happens. What
each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes
. We cannot sugarcoat the feelings in our heart of hearts. The
emotion is the energy that motivates. We cannot ignore what we really
want to create. We should be honest and do it the way we feel it. What
we owe to ourselves and everyone around is to examine the reasons of
our true intent.

--attributed to Thurgood Marshall
(emphasis mine)

Indeed, now more than ever we cannot ignore what we really want to create. The upcoming Presidential election is regarded by many people as a pivotal for our country. I agree. But I think it is pivotal less for the impact it will have on the issues that press to the forefront of our minds, partly driven there by politicians and the mainstream media: bailout bills, vice-presidential picks, whatever.

I think this election matters most because it poses a question to all Americans, but especially to Democrats, about the ways we find it acceptable to practice politics in our country. Many of my Democratic friends acknowledge that Senator Obama's campaign relied on less-than-savory, even dishonest, measures to secure his spot as the Democratic candidate; they will admit, when asked pointedly, that they are disturbed by Senator Obama's truth squads and training camps, by his manipulation of young children when he urges their parent to have them tell their grandparents to vote for him; by his refusal to denounce sexism or take concrete measures to affirmatively demonstrate that he understands the pervasiveness of that social ill; by his tepid stands on reproductive rights and equal rights for gays and lesbians; by his commitment to tying Church and state closer together. But these friends excuse Senator Obama's methods by saying that he has done and is just doing what it takes to win, and after all, isn't that what Republicans have done for years?

I refer those with that point of view to the quotation above from Thurgood Marshall, an often overlooked hero not just of the civil rights movement on behalf of black Americans but a hero for all progressive Americans, because while he naturally enough, given his circumstances, began his career with great concern for black Americans, he ended it by fighting for the rights of all Americans who did not enjoy the equality of opportunity that has been the hallmark of U.S. democracy since the country's founding, and which was renewed by the programs that Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated.

Apparently, many Americans have found Senator Barack Obama's words to have a shattering impact. But what is the quality of the intent of a candidate who resorts to dishonest, manipulative, authoritarian methods to gain office?

And what is the quality of the intent of those who hurl accusations of racism against those who do not want this sort of candidate representing them as Democrats?

As the quality of Senator Obama's intent has become clearer to me over time - a will to power including the power to completely silence any diversity of expression within the Democratic Party itself - I find his words ever more grating, and certainly not inspiring.

I do not believe this country is well served by authoritarian political parties or politicians - consider for example George W. Bush and the Rovian Republican style. But Republicans do not have a monopoly on authoritarian attitudes and tactics, and neither do conservatives in general. The French Revolution - meant to end authoritarian rule in France - ended in The Terror - tyranny by mob rule.

The glory of the United States of America lies in its ability to encompass really difference and real diversity while at the same time creating an environment for equal opportunity, the protection of individual dignity, and the generation of prosperity that can be shared by all. Authoritarians try to make difference and diversity go away, first by pretending it does not exist and then silencing dissenters so it seems as if it does not exist. We cannot ignore what authoritians really intend to create.

At the same time, we have to reflect on what we really intend. I intend my country to have at least one political party that does not cram unity down my throat, that realizes that women's rights are human rights, that will not aim to put in office candidates whose vision of the presidency is an imperial one.

The emotions that I see and feel in my heart when I examine it closely: hope that Democrats will be the ones to keep our country democratic and determination to see the Democratic Party restored to its traditional principles and methods and returned to being a democratic institution.

These emotions undergird the reasons of my true intent when I argue that the only way to fix the Democratic Party is to refuse to support its Presidential candidate this year.

I do not want my Party, the Democratic Party, to be defined by an intent to win elections by any means necessary; I want my Party to be able to win elections on the basis of truly democratic and historically Democratic intent.


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