Focusing On Issues, Not Attacks
Wednesday - October 15, 2008
In less than three weeks, we will choose the next president of the United States. The question for all of us is this: What kind of country do we want? What do we deserve?
By now many of you have seen at least one or two of the four debates between the candidates. You’ve watched the interviews. You’ve laughed out loud at the Saturday Night Live skits, surfed the Internet for more information, logged on to the blogs and read all the op eds. You’re there. Few of you, I believe, are still sitting on the fence, and if you are, you are most likely teetering over to one side or the other.
Here’s what else you’re doing. You’re looking at your bills, your mortgage and your retirement accounts with increasing alarm and wondering if your family is going to be OK. You’re hoping the landlady won’t raise the rent. You’re hanging on to your job even if you don’t like it - or you’re looking for one. You’re living paycheck to paycheck - and watching helplessly as the gap widens between that last check and the one to come. You - we - are praying the economy here in Hawaii won’t topple like the last tile in a game of dominoes.
What you probably aren’t doing is sniffing for scandals. That’s because you’re too preoccupied with everyday survival to take umbrage over manufactured insults. And we are all way too smart to fall for fear mongering and xenophobia. Guilt by association? Get real. Does anybody really believe that Barack Obama is “palling around with terrorists?” Do they care that he served on a charitable board - along with other respected Chicago citizens - with Bill Ayers some 10 years ago? Does it matter that his middle name is Hussein?
Not a whit. And most reasonable people would agree.
But there are those who have screamed “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” at rallies, whipped into a frenzy by a woman who declares that she, unlike Obama, is just like us. I beg to differ. Sarah Palin is not like any of the people I know. Most of the folks I know do not exploit other people’s fears and prejudices under the guise of patriotism.
Some of my friends have exotic names, too, and diverse backgrounds. They are Republicans and Democrats, Asians and Polynesians, white, brown and black. They are as all-American as anyone from the Heartland. And this year most of them are intensely interested in the election.
Sometimes you need to step back and seek a little perspective. I found a glimmer of it a few days ago right here in our back yard, far from the bluster and noise of the political campaigns. It was at a church parking lot in Kalihi, where people were waiting to receive a modest allotment of food from the Hawaii Foodbank.
There they were - men, women and children - packed onto the steaming asphalt, baking in the hot sun, forming a line that spilled out of the driveway and stretched all the way down the block. I doubt they were thinking about Wall Street or Bill Ayers or who is being nastier in a presidential campaign. They don’t own homes and they don’t have retirement accounts. Many of them have jobs, but so many others don’t. What they all have in common is they lack the money to pay for rent and clothing and health care and food all at the same time.
As our national (and international) economic crisis deepens, it will trickle, then flow, then flood down from the big financial institutions to the small businesses to the middle class families and then to those who are the most helpless among us.
In Kalihi, the organizer of the food distribution site has watched the mass of needy people double in a year’s time -from 200 to more than 400. She expects it will get worse. I think she’s right.
We’ve been crippled by eight years of bad decisions, expensive mistakes and the poisonous politics of division. Our problems are so big that we can’t afford to waste any time being distracted by unfounded accusations or pit bull attacks. Ignore them. They are irrelevant to the task at hand.
When we cast our ballots on Nov. 4, it is our job to make our decisions based on rationality, not knee-jerk emotionalism, and on issues, not ideology. Whomever we elect will set the tone and direction of our country. The future of our children and the health of our planet will be in his hands. Let’s vote for the leader who appeals to the best in us, not the worst.
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