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Why I'm Voting for Obama, and Why I Hope You Will Too: Reason 1

Reason 1: Framing Story

[Note: over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a number of personal reflections on the political campaign. I am only speaking as a private citizen, not as the representative of any group.]

My top reason for supporting Barack Obama for president centers in the narrative I believe he frames his life and work by, in contrast to the narrative John McCain frames his life and work by. To me, this issue of narrative (or framing story, for readers of my book Everything Must Change) means far more in a president than whether he claims to be liberal or conservative, religious or nonreligious, Christian or otherwise, Democrat or Republican.

Does anyone doubt that Senator McCain lives by a warrior narrative? This is the most consistent theme in his campaign. For him the world is clearly divided into us and them.

We are good; they are evil. We are right; they are wrong. We are about safety; they are about danger.

This dualistic and fearful narrative is deeply rooted in McCain’s generation. They were formed in the simple, binary context of Axis and Allies, and then Communists and Free World. When Communism collapsed, a new antagonist conveniently presented itself (pre-empting the expected "peace dividend" and keeping the famed "military-industrial complex" well funded). This new war became what McCain calls “the transcendent challenge of the 21st century,” the clash of the West with fundamentalist Islam. McCain’s word “transcendent” is significant. It suggests a kind of holy war mentality, because for McCain, these us-them dualisms are absolute and therefore of a cosmic, metaphysical, even spiritual nature.


The dualistic us-them mindset, I believe, is bogus and dangerous. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is, ironically, the same narrative that drives “fundamentalist Islam,” and so by following it, we will become more and more like those we call our enemies. We already have done so in recent years, in fact, with torture and secret prison camps and the like. This warrior narrative is what Senator McCain has most dangerously in common with President Bush. This “transcendent war” narrative is what we are in most desperate need of changing through this election.

Think about where this warrior narrative can lead in the next four years. From war with Iraq to war with Iran, maybe even war with Russia, any of which would likely require the reinstatement of the draft since our troops have been stretched to the breaking point over the last four years. Soccer and hockey moms who are comforted by McCain's warrior posture should keep this in mind, because there may well be an unanticipated downside to his fighter mindset.

Senator Obama certainly believes in a strong national defense. But I believe he leans toward a profoundly different narrative. It is a reconciliation narrative, a peace-building narrative, a collaboration narrative. He made it clear when he said he would change President Bush’s policy of not talking to our enemies. McCain and others tried to portray this alternative approach as cowardice and appeasement, but they were wrong. Instead of dividing the world into “us” and “them,” Obama’s narrative seeks to bring people together in a expanding us. While McCain’s narrative only offers enemies surrender and defeat, Obama’s offers them the possibility of reconciliation.

I favor Obama’s narrative or framing story because of two convictions I hold very deeply and passionately.

First, I am a committed Christian, and I believe a narrative of reconciliation is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. Conversely, a narrative of domination and defeat is not: it is the way of Caesar, or what Jesus called “the kingdoms of this world.” I believe that at the core of Jesus’ teaching is the world's truly transcendent challenge and call – to rise above the old narrative of “love your brother and hate your enemy.” In other words, rather than to “transcendent war,” I believe God’s call to all people is toward transcendent reconciliation. I am convinced that war is inherently non-transcendent. It is, in fact, anti-transcendent. I feel the God-given call to love enemies and seek reconciliation and eventual collaboration rather than domination and defeat and extermination. I know that many Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and atheists would feel a similar revulsion to voting an energetic promoter of a warrior narrative into office for another four years (or more).

Second, I believe we have crossed a threshold in my lifetime. Senator McCain, because of his age and his viewpoint, lives on the older side of that threshold. This doesn’t mean he is evil, but it means he is responding in ways that are no longer appropriate to a world that no longer exists, and in that way, his viewpoint is no longer helpful.

On his side of the threshold, war – including nuclear war - is an option to keep on the table – so that “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” slips so easily off the tongue. On this side, war is an abomination, a horrible evil that can never be entered into rashly or lightly (or under false pretenses). On his side, wars can be justified if “we” launch them, but not if “they” do. On this side, they are horrible and tragic no matter who launches them.

On his side, evil resides in them and goodness in us. On this side, there is goodness and evil on both sides.

On his side, the greatest enemy is “them.” On this side, the greatest enemies are realities both “we” and “they” must face together – environmental destruction, carelessness toward the poor, and the death-wish of security through war, for starters.

I believe McCain’s old warrior narrative is simply too dangerous to live by any more. That’s the first reason I am voting for Barack Obama. He would be the first to say that he’s not the Messiah, and he isn’t perfect, but he represents a turning … a turning away from the fear-based Bush-Rove-Cheney-McCain warrior narrative, and a turning toward a narrative that seeks peace through reconciliation and creative collaboration rather than through domination and a go-it-alone cowboy/bomber mentality. We’re not just voting for a president this year: we’re voting for a framing story our nation will live by, or kill by.