If the Obama dream is to come alive, progressives, radicals and populists must unite. Photo By Susan Walsh/ CP Photo
Barack Obama, it's true, is a transformational leader. But he needs a transformational movement to become a transformational president.
My wife and I have an adopted eight-year old "biracial" son whose roots are African American. My adult son is married to an African-American woman with roots in Jamaica and Costa Rica. Our family is part of the globalized generation Obama represents. What is at stake for our kids' future is real, palpable, not only political.
Myths are all-important, as Obama writes in his Dreams From My Father. Fifty years ago, the mythic Obama existed only as an aspiration, an ideal, in a country where interracial love was taboo and interracial marriage was largely banned.
The early civil rights movement, the jazz musicians and the beat poets dreamed up this mythic Obama before the literal Obama materialized.
His African father and white countercultural mother dared to dream and love him into existence, incarnate him, at the creative moment of the historic march on Washington.
None of the supposedly expert people in the political, media or intellectual establishments saw this day coming. I didn't expect it myself; the news was carried to me by a new generation, including my own grown-up children. It was dreamed up and built "beyond the radar" or "outside the box" by experienced dreamers with long histories in community organizing, social movements and a few lost causes.
A new cultural understanding has become possible.
John McCain represents a different American story. I am constantly aware that he bombed Vietnam at least 25 times before being shot down in a war that never should have been fought, in a defeat that still cannot say its name.
He wants to continue the unwinnable Iraq war, which is costing $10 billion per month, until every suspect Iraqi is dead, wounded or detained, even though our military tactics keep causing more young Iraqis to hate us than ever before. McCain wants to reignite the Cold War until the Russians are forever broken and humiliated.
My prediction: If he continues on course, Obama will win the popular vote by a few percentage points in November but is at serious risk in the Electoral College. The institution rooted in the original slavery compromise may be a barrier too great to overcome.
There are many outside the Obama movement who assert that he will be co-opted as a new face for American interventionism, that in any event real change cannot be achieved from the top down.
These criticisms are correct. But in the end they miss the larger point.
Most of us want President Obama to withdraw troops from Iraq more rapidly than in 16 months. But it is important that Obama's position is shared by Iraq's prime minister and the vast majority of both our people.
The real problem with Obama's position on Iraq is his adherence to the outmoded Baker-Hamilton proposal to leave thousands of American troops behind for training, advising and ill-defined "counterterrorism" operations.
On Afghanistan, Obama has proposed transferring 10,000 American combat troops from Iraq, which means out of the frying pan, into the fire. Pakistan could be Obama's Bay of Pigs, a debacle.
On Israel-Palestine, he will pursue diplomacy more aggressively, but little more. And so on. The man will disappoint as well as inspire.
Once again, then, why support him?
First, American progressives, radicals and populists, need to be part of the vast Obama coalition, not perceived as negative do-nothings in the minds of young people.
Second, his court appointments will keep us from a right-wing lock on social, economic and civil-liberties issues during our lifetime.
What is missing in the current equation is a progressive social movement on a scale like those of the past.
Progressives need to unite for Barack Obama but also to unite, organically at least, on issues like peace, the environment, the economy, media reform, campaign finance and equality like never before.
There is no reason to expect a President McCain to unify anything more than our manic depression.
But there is the improbable hope that the movement set ablaze by the Obama campaign will be enough to create an explosion of rising expectations for social movements here and around the world. That is a moment to live and fight for.
Tom Hayden is a former California legislator, lifelong peace activist and author of numerous books, including Ending The War In Iraq (Akashic).