Monday September 15, 2008
Who is Barack Obama? Atticus Finch
For most of the year, Republicans have tried to negatively define Barack Obama. They compare him to the most empty aspects of our own society and the most violent aspects of global society. They twist everything, and lie about anything, and in doing so reveal exactly who and how desperate they are.
In the face of these attacks, Barack has remained calm, articulate, resolute. His anger, when it comes, is not the anger of a man with a hair-trigger temper, like John McCain, but the righteous anger of someone who knows that not only he, but our entire system, is being wronged.
And it got me thinking about who this reminds me of.
We know how John McCain defines himself — as a maverick — but anyone who’s been paying attention knows how empty that slogan is. He’s a follower at this point. He’s following the lead of Steve Schmidt, his campaign manager, who once followed the lead of Karl Rove. Whatever smear works, whatever lie works, no matter how sleazy, that’s what they’ll do. So regardless of what John McCain once was, he has now been reduced to the role of a not very bright man surrounded by extremely malicious people. The same malicious people, I should add, who have surrounded another not very bright man, George W. Bush, for the last eight years.
But they keep pumping out the myth. The chest-thumping, Paul Fistinyourface myth of the stupidly aggressive American. In a magazine interview, John McCain even compared himself to TV hero Jack Bauer of “24,” until he was reminded that Bauer’s main (and suspect) means of gathering information — torture — is what John McCain suffered under for five years. But I guess torture is good as long as we’re the torturers. I guess bullying is good as long as we’re the bullies. That’s what half the country seems to think anyway.
Barack, it’s true, is no bully. Here he is after the Republicans mocked him for his community service:
And here’s his response after Gov. Palin suggested that habeas corpus and the U.S. Constitution don’t matter:
Barack Obama is tough but ethical. He’s someone who can make friends out of our enemies rather than — as the Republicans keep doing — enemies out of our friends.
So who does Barack remind me of? He’s a civil rights lawyer who taught Constitutional law and is bringing up two girls the right way. When bullies gather, he stands up for what’s right, he stands up for the rule of law, he stands up. He’s an honorable man running an honorable campaign.
You’ve already read the headline so you already know my answer. Barack Obama reminds me of Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and, according to the American Film Institute, the greatest hero in American movie history.
Here’s Scout on Atticus: “There just didn't seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn't explain.” Here’s Atticus to Scout: “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
This is the very lesson that chest-thumping Republicans have mocked for the last seven years. And where has it gotten us? Wasting billions pursuing the wrong people in the wrong places.
Republicans aren’t interested in understanding. They’re not even interested in talking. You can almost imagine this bit of dialogue between Atticus and Scout taking place between Obama and a certain Republican vice-presidential candidate:
Atticus: Scout, do you know what a compromise is?
Scout: Bending the law?
Atticus: Um, no. It’s an agreement reached by mutual consent.
We’re still in this midst of our own mythic internal struggle, aren’t we, between the violent and often lawless aspects that John McCain represents, and the tough but ethical rule of law that Barack Obama represents. I would’ve thought this battle was over by now. I would’ve thought rule of law triumphed long ago. Apparently not.
Even Atticus, that great hero, lost his case. He proved his case but the trial was rigged from the start by our own overwhelming prejudices, by our need to see things as they are not, by our need to buy into the lie.
Are we a better country now? Or do we still need to see things as they are not? Do we still need to buy into the lie?
Up to you.