Sep 7, 2008

Off to Camp Obama

So on October 4th I'm going to get trained by the Obama campaign to help organise volunteers during the last month of the election. Then, on October 15th I'm off to one of the battle ground states, for three weeks, to help elect the person who I hope will be the next president of the United States.

I've never done anything like this before. In fact, up until the beginning of this year I haven't ever been in possession of particularly strong political opinions. I've never been given to political crushes. I was pleased when Blair got in, but didn't hit the rafters. I disagreed with the Iraq war violently, but only followed the 04 election half-heartedly, sure that Kerry would win; and since then, I've been simmering, in a suit of suitably-contained fury, as befits a guest in someone else's country.

Then this year three things happened: I got engaged, I became a permanent US resident, and I heard Obama speak for the first time — and somewhere in there, I lost my political virginity. Suddenly, I had a rooting interest in this country, a more secure position from which to root, and a person to root for.

Part of it, as I said, is long-simmering anger over Iraq and its consequences, particularly the abuse of detainees, which revolted me on the deepest level. The incompetence of the Bush administration seemed to me to go beyond the merely political, to despoil something far more precious. Put simply, I never really thought of myself as living in any country that had a gulag. Itt wasn't really what I had in mind when I moved here. Call me fussy. Nor did I ever think I would move to a country that invaded others "pre-emptively". Nor do I think of either practise as particularly American.

Obama, on the other hand, is. He embodies all the virtues I think of as being indelibly and historically rooted here: its idealism, its optimism, its communicative gifts, its pragmatism. Above all, there is an intellectual transparency to him — an unwillingness to use specious arguments, a rigor to the way he tests his own ideas against others — that I find remarkable and rare, and which would, I believe, have secured him pre-eminence in any field, let alone politics.

This is, of course, what some people find suspicious about him: the aura of being 'more' than just a politician, of floating above the fray, his allegiances all-encompassing but transcendent, both from this country but not wholly of it. They could be right. In fact, I know they are, because that is what I like about him. Except it feels different to me. To me, it feels more like the thing I think people mean when they use the word 'leadership.' I could be wrong. Either way, it's going to be interesting. I'll report back.

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