What is even more troubling — in my view — is that now, in the final days of the campaign, too many people are taking their eyes off the prize.
I am worried that because of the rising polls many who favor a new direction for this nation and who want Barack Obama to become president are becoming complacent.
Why do I think this? I am finding it harder to recruit people to go to New Hampshire, where a handful of votes once determined the outcome of a previous election and could do so again.
I am finding that many of our beloved friends at church and in other activist organizations seems blissfully content to pursue a normal schedule right up until the election. Many people in my community and around the country seem to be relaxing at exactly the wrong moment.
Everyone seems confident that the odious attacks on Barack Obama about Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright or his middle name or his views on abortion will not work. They are being encouraged in this view by the press and the pundits.
But I know from experience that slander works. Just down the street from me, where I get my hair cut, there is a small business populated by solid, working class Democratic Americans — employees and customers — who remain rattled by the claim that Obama is a secret Muslim.
Indeed I am old enough to have seen preposterous lies achieve their awful ends in American politics – not once, but three times.
I remember thinking in 1988 when Michael Dukakis seemed comfortably ahead in the polls that the Willy Horton attacks were so patently revolting that they could not possibly affect the outcome of the election.
I was wrong.
I remember thinking in 2000 that accusing of Al Gore of being a “liar” was an absurd distortion. I understood the some voters might not like Al Gore as much as I did and do, but surely a man who had worked faithfully for his country as a veteran, a congressman, a senator, a vice president — a man who understood more about policy and science than anyone ever to have held that office — surely he could not be dismissed simply as a “liar.”
I was wrong.
In the late summer of 2004 I was sitting at an outdoor seafood restaurant in Maine, and I found myself sitting next to a bunch of young white mothers sitting around a picnic table chatting as their half-dozen tow-headed children clammered for ketchup and french fries. To my astonishment as I was getting from my meal I overheard them telling each other that my friend John Kerry was a traitor.
They were accusing a man who had been wounded three times in battle — who had turned his boat around in the midst of a firefight in order to pull a drowning Marine to safety as bullets whizzed by his head — of being a coward and a threat to the United States. These women were smugly reinforcing the lies they had heard in a Swift Boat ad, that were printed in a defamatory book on sale that week at Wal-Mart, and that were being repeated in thousands of television commercials funded by right-wing extremists around the country.
I almost walked over and spoke to them. I had been to New Hampshire many times for this campaign. At the time these claims seemed as shocking and meritless as anything we are hearing from Sarah Palin’s depressing speeches today. Surely, I thought, such slander could not determine the outcome of this election. I told myself that speaking to them might reinforce, not alter, their views.
I was wrong.
Three times I did not believe that the American voting public would not be swayed by the flat-out lies that were being advanced about decent and patriotic candidates for the presidency.
And three times I was wrong.
I don’t want to be wrong again.
Nor do you.
So I am asking each of you individually: what are you doing to contribute to this victory? Not someone else. You.
Barack Obama has done everything we could possibly have asked of him. He has behaved with poise, courage, tenacity, passion, and dignity. Now we must respond in kind.
I am sure he appreciates whatever you have done so far. But the past is over.
We are now talking about what you will do in the next 23 days. Call voters? Go to a swing state? Walk door to door and ask your fellow Americans, from your heart, for their support?
Whatever you are planning to do, you must do more. You owe it to your country.
Look at your calendar and cut out everything that is not essential to your livelihood and loved ones.
Then get busy. Now.
I am sorry if you find this annoying. I am sorry if you don’t want to hear from me on e-mail or on the phone as I continue my calling. I will have four years to win back your favor if it all turns out all right.
But if Obama loses, then you will find yourself, to use the Biblical phrase, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, grieving that you did not do more. I am trying to spare all of us from that misery.
Think of what will happen if between now and election day a) someone fires at Obama or b) someone shoots down a US airliner or c) blows up a school bus and then d) McCain wins and Palin becomes president.
We must do everything possible to nail this victory down. We have moved past the point where we are discussing the merits of the candidates. This is now a referendum on our identity as a nation and on our own capacity and maturity as citizens.
George W. Bush now has less than 100 days in office. When he departs, the worst presidency since Reconstruction (as the New Yorker put it) – and possibly since the beginning of the American Republic — will come to an end. What happens next is up to us.
We must intensify the effort for the next three weeks and two days.
Stop relaxing. Stop thinking this is someone else’s job. Stop thinking that you can rely on the efforts of others. The responsibility is squarely on you and me.
We need not only to win but to win by the widest possible margin so that the ugliness of this campaign is repudiated decisively and permanently. The people running McCain’s campaign – Davis, Schmidt, Rove, Eskew, and all of the ugly manipulators who somewhere along their moral development road shed the capacity for decency — must be considered toxic to all future campaigns and candidates.
If they win, we will sink into the cesspool of their kind of politics for the rest of our lives, because it will have been proven that their path is the path to victory.
Perhaps when this is all over and Obama has won a large victory you will be able to pat me on the back and smile at me and say — “you see, Bob, you were wrong.”
Three times I assumed the best, and I was mistaken. Now I have flipped and I am assuming despite the positive signs we are still in real danger.
I am willing to be wrong again.
I am urging you, imploring you — and daring you — to prove that I am.