If there are any two words that summarize this election cycle, they are “change” and “hope.” While presidential hopeful Barack Obama has done to most to frame the political discussion in these terms, we can thank President Bush and the conservative wing of the Republican Party for creating the demand for what they represent.
There can be no doubt except among the delusional among us that our country’s leaders have done great damage by systematically reconfiguring government to conform to their overly simplistic view of the world. People with their values and perceptions are good, and everyone else either needs to be converted, enslaved, or rendered powerless (if not dead). Ironically, many of these very same leaders claim to be followers of Jesus, whose philosophy of love and acceptance was the exact opposite of theirs.
The situation has gotten so bad that “change” is now synonymous with reaffirming the basic tenets of the Constitution and the rights that have been incrementally bestowed on people since that great document was written. That we have even debated the use of torture or the granting of immunity to companies and government agents for spying on American citizens is a testament to how low we have sunk.
Hope and fear are similar concepts with opposing outcomes. Both involve the creation of expectations, one good and the other bad. Hope attracts us toward something we want, while fear drives us away from something that threatens us. In practice, hope expands our freedom of action and fear constricts it. The destruction of people and cultures that we are unfamiliar with is a knee-jerk reaction to fear, which makes it an effective if blunt weapon for terrorists and cynical politicians alike. Hope, like its close cousin faith, enables us to act in the absence of certainty, thus optimizing our chances of success.
We have lived under a cloud of fear for several years now, with predictable results. Fortunately that cloud is lifting as the majority of us have become aware of its costs. We must however be careful, as the old saying warns, with what we hope for to take its place.