I just read the feel-good poll of the season—and it feels good not just because I like Obama but because I really, really want to like Americans. A new CBS/NY Times poll finds that 70% of voters nationwide believe that Obama "shares the values most Americans try to live by." 66% say the same about McCain, 60% about Clinton. And this is after all the talk about Jeremiah Wright.
This has left some pundits scratching their heads. How could middle-of-the-road white people hear Obama's pastor say "God damn America" and yet still feel that he shares their values? But here's the thing: for the political geeks, politics are everything. For most Americans, they're not. In fact, politics come pretty far down our personal agendas, after family, friends, community, and just getting along with the people around us.
We all have people in our lives whose politics we don't share, often actively dislike. So maybe your minister, priest, rabbi, guru, therapist, or astrologer trots out some screwy opinion about AIDS or Iraq. Who ends a relationship, who trashes a spiritual and personal connection, over that? A few days ago a friend of mine, an Irish Catholic Democrat from New York, got an email from one of her favorite aunts claiming that the Book of Revelation identifies Barack Obama as the anti-Christ. Did she denounce and reject her aunt? No. She rolled her eyes. Which is basically what Obama did when Wright's speeches hit YouTube. He rolled them eloquently, and with perhaps a few too many words, but that was pretty much the gist of the message: the pastor is a cranky old guy with some obnoxious ideas, but what can you do?
This is the essence of inclusion and unity. It's what makes Americans pretty good people when we're at our best. It's so easy to get fed up with our national political culture when I'm spending too much time reading anonymous comments on websites or listening to televised blowhards that I forget that the simple business of making my way through daily American life, among people of vastly disparate worldviews and opinions, is usually very pleasant and rewarding. It's good to know that Americans...or 70% of CBS/NYT poll respondents, anyway...still believe that compassion, love, and loyalty still weigh more than political opinions.