by Kristin on July 3, 2007

in Navigating a life in between

Last night on “The West Wing” (season six, via DVD), the Republican National Convention was in full tilt, with a clear party nomination for Vinick. The Democrats, on the other hand, were in disarray, with three candidates still battling for a nomination.

Today, in real time, Barack Obama, who just announced he’s raised over $32.5 million, is beginning a five city swing in Eastern Iowa, while Hillary and Bill are making tracks through the west side of the same state. President Bush, on the other hand, whose approval ratings are in the 30 percent range, commuted Lewis Libby’s 30-month prison sentence. What will he think of next?

This is the first time in several years of watching “The West Wing” during the Bush presidency that I wouldn’t have gladly traded the political reality with whatever’s happening with the Bartlet administration on TV. Typically, if I’ve been watching the show the night before, I wake up somewhat disoriented in the mornings, hoping my memories of last night’s WW episode are reality, and the news on NPR’s Morning Edition are the remains of a bad dream.

It’s a strange thing to say, when the state of our country is at an all-time low, but at this moment it’s more exciting to be following Barack and watching the current administration repeatedly shoot itself in the foot. WW is stressing me out. Bartlet, my hero, is on his way out, and there aren’t any characters capturing my interest and heart the way Obama does.

I distinctly remember the first time I heard the name Barack Obama. It was in 2003, when I was getting ready to vote in the Illinois Democratic primary election. This candidate’s name certainly caught my attention, but so did everything I read about him. I remember telling my dad, in Michigan, how excited I was about this unknown candidate.

When he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, suddenly everyone was talking about him. As it turned out, Obama was the only thing to be excited and hopeful about in the 2004 election, which made me proud to live in Illinois and to have helped send him to Washington.

Now, as he gets closer to a Democratic presidential nomination than anyone just a couple of years ago thought he might, it’s still very hope-inducing to have the most exciting Democrat in the country to be from Illinois. And to have the most exciting Democrat to be African-American. And for his name to be Barack Hussein Obama (a name many conservatives have all kinds of fun with, for sure: Barack Osama bin Laden, Osama-Obama, etc.).

It’s exciting to see thousands of people pour their souls and money into this kind of hope, and to see young, hip people like my rock star friend Ryan all excited about Barack and, therefore, politics. (Ryan was the first person I know to have a Barack-n-Roll t-shirt.)

In my enthusiasm, I don’t want to ignore how slow and backward our country is when it comes to race and politics. It’s really sad and downright wrong that only one of our current 100 U.S. Senators is black (and that he’s just the fifth African-American U.S. Senator ever). But if we have to start somewhere (again and again and again) to bring unity—to show how we’re more alike than we are different—Obama is an exciting place to start. A taste of his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech says it all:

“The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Amen, my Illinois brother. Let it be so.

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