The presidential election of 2008 is still three weeks away. By all likely measures, Barack Obama will win. It's not a foregone conclusion, but a strong likelihood.
Many people point to the recent economic turmoil as the reason for Obama's rise. In the short run, that theory is correct. Voter anger at the party in power is overwhelming.
The economic turmoil, however, masks a greater truth about this election. When times are good, we are risk averse. In times of trouble, however, we become a nation of risk takers. If the present is so bad, what's so wrong with taking a chance. Now more than ever, it seems we are willing to take a risk on the unknown.
The best analogy I can think of is the 1970's television game show "Let's Make a Deal." (For those of you too young to remember, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let). In that game show, contestants gained the ability to win prizes by answering questions correctly. Correct answers gave contestants a choice. The contestant could choose a known prize, say a television or bedroom set.
The genius of Let's Make a Deal was that into the prize mix was entered an unknown potential prize. That prize was behind "Door No. 2," or hidden in a box, or behind a curtain. There was no guarantee of what was behind Door No. 2. There could be an even greater prize, say a car, or a booby prize, say an inflatable clown.
One would think contestants routinely would take the sure thing. Better to have a good known prize than take a complete gamble on Door No. 2. But such was not the case. Time and again, we would watch in delight as the contestant wracked her brains over taking the sure thing versus the unknown.
With the crowd shouting encouragement, so many contestants chose Door No. 2. The hope for something great so often overwhelmed the certainty of something good. And so it seems in this election.
John McCain is the safe choice. Through a lifetime in the Navy and then the United States Senate, McCain has proven time and again that he puts his country before himself. Whether it was choosing prison over dishonor, or fighting against both political parties on issue after issue, McCain has shown that he has the character and experience to be President.
But for many (and possibly most) of us, the sure thing of McCain is not enough. In these trying times, the lure of what is behind Door No. 2 seems to much to resist. Obama is Door No. 2.
The foundation of Obama's campaign is hope. Not just any hope, mind you, but the most hope one can imagine. The video of young children singing an ode to Obama (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtGrp5MbzAI) is the embodiment of the mania sweeping this country. In scenes reminiscent of the odes to the Great Leader and Dear Leader in North Korea (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08BAfKCfu74), children chant for Obama to save them.
The shirts worn by the children in the Obama sing-a-long say "Imagine Hope." Think about that phrase. "Imagine" means "to form a notion of without sufficient basis" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imagine). "Hope" is "to desire with expectation of obtainment" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope). So let's think of everything we desire and believe we will obtain it even through there is insufficient basis for such belief ... and vote for Obama.
"Imagining hope" is the essence of Door No. 2. Whatever reality tells us, the possibility of something greater has an irresistible lure.
As in Let's Make a Deal, choosing Door No. 2 carries great risks. So does choosing Obama.
Obama may be a post-racial healer, or he may be someone who carefully uses race and false accusations of racism to advance his political career. Obama may not have known about Jeremiah Wright's political race-baiting, or he may have known but not cared. Obama may be someone who views this country as inherently good, or he may secretly share the views of his political enabler, William Ayers, that this country is inherently bad. We may know Obama better than Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers know Obama, or we may not know Obama at all.
Obama may be everything good, or the promise Obama embodies may just be a figment of our own imagination.
Obama is the perfect vehicle for imagining hope, because he has almost no record. Obama is a blank canvas upon which we can paint our imagined hope. Obama has avoided almost every hard issue that has confronted him in his political career, choosing to vote "present" (literally or figuratively) hundreds of times.
Just about the only thing we know about Obama is what he has told us about himself. To inquire deeper invites accusations that one is a "smear merchant" and using "racially tinged subtexts."
When selecting a prize on a game show, taking a risk on what is behind Door No. 2 may be worth the chance. When electing a President, there is too much at stake for such a gamble. John McCain may not be perfect, but he is known.
With the economy on the brink, Al-qaida on the prowl, the Russian bear on the loose, and our Constitution threatened by enemies foreign and domestic, I will not gamble on the presidency. I will not choose Door No. 2 by voting for Obama. Or as the saying goes, "better safe than sorry."