Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 6.12.08

Stark Choices
On the cusp, or on the brink?
by Scott Bartlett

Historic and epochal political shifts come once a generation — if that! Forty long but all too brief years ago in early June 1968, I boarded a Greyhound from Eugene to San Francisco to do whatever I could to help Robert F. Kennedy win what promised to be a pivotal Democratic primary on June 5 . Kennedy had come to Eugene a few weeks earlier; we went out to greet him at the airport and cheer him on at Hayward Field. Although Gene McCarthy won Oregon’s late May primary, it was Kennedy whom many felt could go the distance and reclaim the White House.

All of 23 years young — with a burning generational desire to bring our Vietnam War troops home and rekindle a rebirth of American idealism and world respect — I was magnetically drawn to what we’d hoped would be an historic, momentous victory on the way to restoring the generational torch-bearing path of JFK.

But on that fateful Tuesday, minutes after his great California win, time and eternity parted company for RFK, and with his passing went the golden hopes of tens of millions of Americans. With Republicans Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Henry Kissinger came five more years of protracted war-death-national discord, impeachment and resignation.

Standing in the May 10, 2008, sea of 8,000 beaming, cheering, earnest, mostly young faces fronting the UO quadrangle outdoor stage where Barack Obama was exhorting the massive crowd “to turn the page” of American history, I saw the perennial face of American idealism and resurgent hope and felt my own lips join in to intone, “Yes we can.”

Elections have consequences. Body bags, prosthetic limbs, anguished cries and indescribable grief. More than 5,200 American Iraq War fatalities, including contractors; 30,000 grievously wounded. Iraq decimated with hundreds of thousands dead, at least one million made refugees outside their country, another million internally. Oregon has lost 106 of her sons and daughters, according to the governor’s office.

Operation Iraqi Freedom has made Iran the preeminent Persian Gulf power and extended Shiite influence to Sunni Saudi Arabia’s eastern border. The Bush-McCain Iraq debacle has eliminated the historic Iraqi counterbalance, installing Iraqi Shiite leaders who had lived for years in Teheran political exile.

And John McCain, the tragic war’s chief Senate advocate, touts his vaunted “experience” and proclaims this a rousing success while saying a 100 year American-Iraq occupation is “fine with me”? Some “experience” should not be repeated!

As a guest, waiting in line to visit with Barack and Michelle Obama at a May 17 Portland private reception, I felt history unfolding — this magnificent and beautifully prepared spousal team — a potential great presidency in waiting — if only we Americans are up to the task! One sensed an almost tangible air of gravitas, positive energy and, yes, hope that I hadn’t experienced since RFK and JFK. 

Age-old scripture warns us: “Without vision, the people perish!” Obama sees an America reaching out across “a planet in peril,” signaling a new global cooperation and outstretched hand. He sees a health care system whose first question is, “Where do you hurt?” — not, “How will you pay? He envisions an America with policies embracing “brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” He declines the cheap shot, easy swipe or pander to the politics of mass distraction and its Pox News-driven culture of personal destruction.

John McCain resembles a general fighting the last war — with outmoded tactics and debunked propaganda — viewing the future through a smudged rear-view mirror. But Obama’s early opposition to the Iraq War reveals habitually original and critical thinking — and that tells the tale of two stark choices for Americans this November!

Gen. George S. Patton’s famous quote defines the difference: “If everyone’s thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

What road will America take? More of the same? Or positive change? What will we be thinking come November?

Scott Bartlett is a member of Lane County’s Budget Committee and has worked for decades as a campaign aid, political analyst/consultant and speech writer.