Opinion » Bill Cope

Grow Up Time IV

Take off the gloves, kids


This is it, youngsters. Show time. The Big Crunch. Sudden death overtime. Last man standing. Normandy Beach. Daniel in the lion's den. Neil Armstrong coming in for that lunar landing. Sisyphus and his rock at the tipping point. Frodo and Samwise at Mount Doom. The Potter lad, toe to toe with Voldemort. Chief Brady with one bullet left and the shark is headed his way. Hector and Achilles, face to face. Ahab and Moby Dick, face to face. The Greatest Generation and the Superior Race, Luke Skywalker and the Emperor, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West ... all face to face. Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, Henry V at Agincourt, Leonidas at Thermopylae, the Mario Brothers at Level Three, America at the crossroads. This is it. This! Is! The! Big! One!

Can I overstate how important this election is?

Maybe. But I haven't yet.

As you read this, the showdown between Obama and McCain will be less than 12 weeks away, and as I write this, the Republicans have unloaded on Obama like a stray dog on your front lawn. They've called him a hypocrite, a flip-flopper, a phony, for modifying a few positions, and offered as the alternative a Play-Doh puppet who has abandoned so many of his principles that you wouldn't recognize him as the same John McCain of 2000 if it weren't for the biopsy Band-Aids on his wattled face.

They criticized Obama for not going to see the war for himself, then criticized him for having such a successful trip. They've lumped him with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears—and don't try to tell me they didn't choose to put his image alongside two skanky white women for a reason—then accused him of "playing the race card" when he observed he's a black man.

They say he's not ready to lead. This from the party that eight years ago cursed America with the most un-ready individual to ever squat in the Oval Office. (Anyone old enough to have been around during the civil rights movement has heard the "not ready" argument before. Segregationists were insistent that blacks were not ready for full citizenship, not ready to vote intelligently, not ready to join society in full. So don't try to tell me the phrase "not ready" is a coincidence either.)

Because he knows more than they know, speaks better than they speak, has achieved more than they could ever achieve and inspires more than they could ever hope to inspire, they've tagged him as an "elitist." This from trust-fund chumps who wouldn't let Obama into their private clubs even if he were president.

They have even gone so far as to claim Obama would rather win an election than win a war. And this from people who would actually start a war to win an election—and have.

This is the Republican way—to spray so much random filth around that some of it's bound to stick—to twist every truth, to distort every fact, to scratch at every soft spot, emphasize every difference and demean every strength—to make their opponents appear hardly human, let alone capable of leading a country.

That's why you went for Obama in the first place isn't it, young friends? Because you are sick of the bickering, the vitriol, the antagonism and the gridlock. And because he seemed like a way out of the partisan extremism—the culture war that eats at America's warp and weave like creeping rot. From the beginning, he said he would cross the divide, mend the rift, heal the wounds, and he seemed like just the man to do it. Didn't he?

I agree. And I believe, in spite of those few strategic retreats, he's still just the man to do it. If things go as we hope, my daughter will be telling her grandchildren that the day America became worthy again was the day Obama took office.

Ah, but it seems the Republicans haven't gotten the text message that we are done with nasty politics.

To say that both sides do the same thing is like saying both the cancer and the tissue it destroys are equally to blame. Democrats didn't invent Jack Abramoff, Larry Craig, Tom DeLay, Alberto Gonzales or George Bush to make their side look better in contrast. But Republicans did invent "Swift Boating," Fox news, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and racistly-coded campaign ads. They do it because the only way their side can look palatable is to compare it to a boatload of lies. And they neither can nor will quit now, not when the best they have to offer is John McCain.

Obama knows he can't afford to hang loose and hope it rolls off his back. He knows he has to fight back. When the other side says something foolish, he has to call them fools. When the other side lies, he has to call them liars. To not respond rapidly and fiercely to every new smear would get him nothing but a membership in the Carter-Dukakis-Kerry Club. He has no choice but to play politics as usual when politics as usual is the game.

And you, young people, need to fight with him. For the next 12 weeks, you need to put aside your distaste of antagonism. You need to hold your noses and jump in. You have no obligation to fight lies with more lies—the plain truth about Republican leadership is damaging enough. But to get that truth out from under the rocks so people can see it, you must fight fire with a hotter fire.

You must write withering responses to the anti-Obama garbage that will show up on the editorial pages. Start with anything Charles Krauthammer, George Will or Calvin Thomas writes, and proceed from there to each and every letter from the locals as they appear.

Confront the bilge whether it shows up in blogs, push polls or something left under your windshield wiper. You must educate yourselves, then dispute every display of ignorance, every unfounded rumor and every slur.

Meet your doubters eye to eye. Do the campaign literature drops like supporters have been doing since campaign literature was invented. Let your neighbors know that you're not just some pie-in-the-sky-faced kid who's done gone ga-ga over the latest fad. Let them know you've thought about it more than they have. Let them know Obama attracts such immense support not because he's charismatic, not because he's a celebrity but because he's right.

You started this. You may not even realize the power your energy and enthusiasm has had over the Democratic Party this last year, or the terror you have stricken into the rancid hearts of Republican moguls, but you may have changed the country, and you may yet change the world. Now, finish what you started—even if that means doing exactly what you want to change the most.