Summer ended on Saturday at 4:49 am. No, this was not the moment the din and energy of 40,000 students descending upon us here in State College made itself felt – that actually began already on Friday. Nor was it the moment a reveler practicing for the new semester at the number three party school in the country woke me – that was 3:30 am on Sunday. Rather, it was the moment the Obama campaign sent the email and text message that announced that Obama had selected Joe Biden as his running mate.
Although the choice may have been made while Obama was on vacation, it had all the seriousness and weight of the fall. The decision speaks well of Obama and his campaign:
- It was magnanimous as Obama had to look beyond the harsh and destructive comments Biden had directed against him in order to make a “wise and self-aware” decision that is in the best interest of the country.
- It was done with discipline: in holding Biden’s name in confidence for an extended period of time, Obama illustrated the organizational discipline of his campaign and staff.
- The process by which the decision was made public reflected foresight and technological savvy: in announcing the decision directly to supporters via text message and email, the Obama campaign showed a keen ability to communicate with people wherever they are and won for itself a powerful Get Out the Vote tool it will use on election day. It also circumvented the elaborate filtering mechanisms of the mainstream media.
Beyond this, however, the decision marked a decisive turn away from the foreign policy hubris of the Bush Administration, a hubris on which McCain seems to be doubling down. In responding to the crisis in Georgia, for example, Obama charted a strong but measured course of action that began with a call for dialogue. Obama’s politics of engagement and dialogue has long been championed by Biden, who himself helped draft a resolution that urged increased diplomacy in order to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s weapons program even if it ultimately gave authorization to use military force as a last resort. For his part, McCain turned to hyperbole in responding to the Russian action in South Ossetia and Abkhazia: by insisting that “today, we are all Georgians” and inserting himself directly into the crisis by calling Georgian President Mikheil Saakashivili, McCain over-reached and undermined the response of the sitting President of the United States.
Now that the summer is over, it will be necessary to turn to the weightier issues of the fall. If the summer witnessed the abandonment of a promised civility for Steve Schmidt’s spiteful, Karl Rove-style tactics that appeal to our worst selves, trading on hatred, fear and resentment, let the fall bring a serious discussion of policy, of perspective, of priorities and indeed, of philosophy.
I can only hope that the beginning of such a fall was announced by the appearance of that email at 4:49 am this past Saturday morning.