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On Canvassing, Four Years Later

By November 4, 2012January 15th, 2017Civic Life, The Long Road

Today, the girls and I, along with my colleague, Dan Letwin, and his son, Nick, took to the local streets to canvass for Barack Obama as we did four years ago.

A lot has changed in four years, particularly with the kids, as the pictures posted here attest.

Changed too is the sense of possibility we had four years ago when we really didn’t know if it was even reasonable to think that America might elect an African American President.

Even then, however, I was trying to live a kind of critical optimism that would enable us, in what still remains “a dangerously adolescent country (Baldwin),” to cultivate a sense of our own limits and to nurture more just relationships with one another.

Today, I took to the Pennsylvania streets for Barack Obama despite what I believe to be his very significant failures to move our understanding of justice from one based on retribution and violence to one oriented by a deep sense of how our lives are woven intimately into the lives of others and the well-being of the world in which we together live. Retributive justice is, of course, no justice at all; rather, justice is rooted in our abilities to respond to others, however different they may be, in ways that move us toward a mutually more fulfilling life.

The rhetoric of retribution in the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the unrepentant use of drone strikes are two of the ways this administration, like the last, perpetuates a cycle of violence that is destructive of any possibility of peace. Even at this late date in human history, when retribution has proven itself unable to perpetuate anything other than perpetual violence, we humans remain addicted to the short lived satisfaction it offers, no matter how many times we experience the pain it will inevitably return to us.

And yet, despite all of that, I nevertheless took to the streets to canvas for Obama with my kids and my colleague because Barack Obama still articulates a compelling vision of what is possible for America, even if America – and perhaps Obama himself – is not fully prepared to live up to the ideals set forth.

I will settle, for now, for a President who recognizes the need for us to take care of one another, who understands the destructive impact our human economy is having on the earth’s ecology, and who has shown himself capable of moving difficult legislation through a recalcitrant and dysfunctional political system.

So today, just like four years ago, we set out to knock on doors for Obama; and today, as then, I found myself at once saddened and heartened. I was saddened by the man who, learning that we were there for Obama, shut his door in the face of three little kids and their somewhat taken aback fathers. That act of rudeness did not rise to the comic level that my argument with the libertarians did four years ago, but still, it demonstrated a lack of civility that has become all too common a part of our civic culture.

I was heartened, however, as I was four years ago, by the few we seemed to convince, and by the woman who was herself so pleased to welcome the six of us onto her front porch, where she listened to these two middle aged fathers still idealistic enough to believe knocking on a few doors could make a difference, and to their three excited kids willing to believe it would too.


  • David says:

    Fantastic post. Sums up my feelings in many ways, but I would like to add that my vote this time is as much a vote against Romney, and what has become of the republican party in the last few years, as it is supportive of Obama. Personally I feel like Climate Change is the issue that will influence the 21st century and our children's lives more than anything else, and still there is almost no discussion from either candidate about it, at least, certainly nowhere close to the level that I feel it needs to be at right now… Tuesday night will be interesting just the same.

  • Chandana says:

    President Obama appears to be rooted in neither the Greek paideia nor the Christian version of it nor, for that matter, to be having an instinctive feel for the US as a nation at the cutting edge of Hellenocrntric nations, a feeling which presidents who had not presumed themselves to be highly intellectual appeared to have had. He is entirely a product of modernism, save for his expedient attachment to liberation theology. His hope that his apparent mastery of the literary art of the rhetor was sufficient to inspire the middle-east to begin to make a distinctions between faith and reason, and in turn embrace religious tolerance , is likely to be judged by future historians as his basal foreign policy mistake. His notion of justice as absolute equality is not even desirable, leave alone, a possible perfection inherent in nature. His tendency to display contempt and condescension toward his critics and political enemies speaks to his intellectual and emotional insecurities. These insecurities might have him comfortable in the celebrity milieu. But, one feels, it was the social inaptness, born of his insecurities that is at the source of his failure to seek at least the semblance of bipartisanship. Both Romney's character and his external achievements constitute the best proof that a soul reared in even Mormonism is superior to a soul reared in a modernism which is uninformed by the classic heritage of western thought.

  • Katelyn Perry says:

    I think you managed to express exactly how I feel about President Obama—saddened and heartened; disappointed but still resolute, discouraged and hopeful.

  • Eva says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, Chris. It resonates deeply with my own feelings and thoughts about Obama and the hope that I — still — have.

  • Mya says:

    I wish Jill Stein had a better chance. It sounds like you'd be a fan of her too?

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