Lewis: They (The American People) want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.
President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.
—The American President
When the Barack Obama lovefest started, I wanted on.
I braced myself for the ride of my life and headed out to see Obama speak. I wanted more than politics—I wanted leadership. I wanted a politician who understood the difference between fighting the fights he can win, and fighting the fights that need fighting. Surely someone with Obama’s charisma and intelligence could persuade the American people to talk about the real issues instead of dumbed-down soundbites.
I want to believe in Barack Obama.
Rewind 17 years.
Fall of 1991. Working days at a bank and evenings as a waitress, taking some coursework in the afternoons, I survived in a fog of beer and cigarette smoke, stumbling through early adulthood.
Something happened and I woke up. My stumbling shifted to gingerly picking my way through the days, making sense of my life. The day I woke up, I turned on the TV and saw a bunch of older white men—looking like all the uncles at a Bridwell family reunion—and a younger black woman.
The man in charge said all the right things. He talked about the justice system—allowing it to work without bias—and then sat back as the other men demeaned and belittled the woman. He might have felt an urge to stand up and do something, like impose basic rules of evidence so she could have the same protections she would have had in a court of law. This was the Senate, however, and he chose to wait for the fight he could win instead.
I watched, horrified, as the men pretended to understand the basics of sexual harassment, thus their convenient dismissal of any expert witnesses on the topic, and then asked questions that completely missed the point. These were questions designed not to enlighten, but to debase. It was a stunning illustration of how little power American women have, how very much power white rich men have, and how very little the senators understood it all. Clarence Thomas was confirmed to our Supreme Court where he can show generations how dangerous the cavalier abuse of power can be.
I hear Obama saying a lot of right things. I appreciate him reaching out to a broad audience in order to beat John McCain. My complaints about Obama do not mean I’ll vote for McCain. The implication that my desire for more intelligent and honest discussion means I would prefer the lowest common denominator is infuriating. I’m complaining because I’m tired of drinking sand. By adding Joe Biden to the ticket, Obama might as well have handed me a toy funnel so I could swallow more efficiently.
I want a presidential candidate who is truly presidential. Someone who has the courage to confront the American people with deeper discussions than his polls dictate. Someone who assumes we know the difference between sand and water.
It’s easy to argue that Biden didn’t do anything wrong during the Clarence Thomas hearings, it’s much harder to argue that he did anything courageous. I find a similar theme throughout Obama’s platform. Instead of fighting the fights that need fighting, he’s standing by, voting present, almost leading.