Since John Edwards dropped out of the presidential race last week, I have come around to what is apparently the cause of my generation: I now support Barack Obama.
However, my support for Obama comes not for his brilliantly stirring orations of the need to rise and bring about change: Rather, I have studied him as deeply as is possible (in a non-stalker way), and come to realize that I admire the man Obama really means to be, even if electoral pressures forbid him from ever talking about it.
What exactly that is isn’t the issue here. The real issue is: Have you, the Obama youth army, done your homework before laying your eternal electoral allegiance before the largely unproven, though undeniably promising, fresh force that is Obama?
If experience is a guide, then I’ll bet that most of you haven’t. I’ll bet that you support Obama with the same blind fervor that brought college kids to rally, campaign and blog for Howard Dean four years ago – only to be absent from the process when the eventual Democrat nominee John Kerry needed them.
I admit, your excitement is noteworthy. Even though the complete wash that was Super Tuesday still leaves Obama as a slight underdog, college kids everywhere can taste victory, and they swear that this is the time of something unprecedented. The parallel that is often raised by overzealous young politicos is that of Bobby Kennedy – all that the next generation could have been had he not been killed in 1968. Not since then, letters to the editor have said, have young people been so excited by politics.
That’s partially correct. Excepting the brief blip that was the Dean Machine, the last time college kids made noise during a presidential election was in 1968. However, those OD’ing on the Obama Kool-Aid (and there are many of you) should consider that the commotion and chaos at the ’68 Democratic National Convention was not out of a passion for Bobby Kennedy. The hell raisers – among them the infamous Chicago Seven, which included former Michigan Daily editor Tom Hayden – were actually protesting the unfair process by which the Democratic party gave the presidential nomination to Lyndon Johnson’s vice president Hubert Humphrey instead of the anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy.
Bobby Kennedy has become a legendary figure, and while he was an unabashedly bold idealist, let’s remember that his legend grew considerably by the hero worship that followed his death. In life, Bobby was a promising, though far from perfect candidate. He entered the race late and split the large anti-war faction that had been backing McCarthy. Before and after his death, the youth vote was with McCarthy.
This example matters because it shows that a lot of us haven’t learned our lesson. This is the first time many of us are actively engaged in a presidential campaign so it’s understandable we’ll make mistakes. But let’s get one thing straight: Barack Obama doesn’t need your hero worship.
I know, I know; change is in the air; you can feel it, you can taste it and Common is talking about it. But if you’re on the Obama bandwagon just because it’s cool, please hop off.
Read Obama’s first book, “Dreams from My Father,” to understand exactly how he feels about those who support important causes without full knowledge of what they’re doing. In talking about his uninformed adoration as a youth of figures like Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, Obama is critical of his own intellectual laziness.
He overcomes those initial delusions of social consciousness to eventually gain insights most of us cannot fathom, but that was only after years of work and a monumental struggle of self discovery. Take the time to learn about that part of this great man. Or better yet, learn about any of the many fascinating parts of Obama’s experience that the vapid 24-hour horserace coverage will never discuss.
Go learn about Obama’s faith – how he found it and how many unique experiences he has had with religion. Learn about his efforts to organize disadvantaged communities in Chicago and the significance of the mixed results they achieved. But don’t simply try to read about this on his website: The evils of the campaign have forced Obama to mute some of the most admirable facets of his character. The real information is in his books, in deeper news articles and in the scattered words of all those who knew him back then.
It’s perfectly fine to be inspired by what Obama says. But that inspiration must translate to reason, belief, resolve and action – not blind veneration. Let’s not relegate Obama to the vain hippy pipe dreams that put icons like Malcolm X and Che on the same vintage T-shirts that have now begun to feature Obama. He’s much bigger than that, and we shortchange ourselves by not exploring the depths of his greatness.
Imran Syed was the Daily’s fall/winter editorial page editor in 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org