Opinion » Viewpoint

Obama as Santa Claus?

A father's reproach illuminates the Democratic candidate's special appeal.



My father's a die-hard Republican. Ask him why, and he'll tell you because the Republicans are the "lesser of the two evils."

No idealism there, but it's one of the things I've come to appreciate about him. He and I often break that unspoken rule of avoiding politics in polite conversation. We can't help it — it's our "thing." This year's election is no different, although the discussions with him are becoming increasingly heated as the months pass. I can only imagine what they'll be like in November.

In the onslaught of wins for the Obama campaign, our exchange has become a series of sound bites we've both heard. "Obama is the 'candyman,' making impossible promises." And then, my response: "What's wrong with giving people hope?"

I've realized in the past few weeks that there is more going on in the current political climate than meets the eye. It goes beyond Republican vs. Democrat, capitalist vs. socialist, or whatever philosophical or social slugfest you want to label it as. The reality of the grossly polarized views of our society has never been more evident than in this year's election.

Yet in the midst of all of the bickering, talk-show rants, and sad attempts at slander, the underlying issue is not a polarization of parties but a polarization of mentality. It's between those who see the glass half-full and those who see it half-empty. It's between those who have faith and those who have fear — fear of socialism, fear of the dissolution of the middle class, and fear of the black man, however light the shade of his skin might be.

The experienced politicians are offering us a world of growing threats from the "evil-doers" and a culture of fear that is inexorably embedded in our mindset. Meanwhile, the "inexperienced" politician is offering us idealism — a much brighter world filled with community effort, successful schools, and health care for everyone.

And then there's Santa Claus. When I was a kid, I believed in Santa Claus and wrote him letters every year to tell him my wish list. When I became older, I learned the truth. Santa was just Mom and Dad piling on credit card debt and skipping a few bills to grant me those wishes. Sure, this knowledge changed my outlook on Christmas. The guy in the red suit was reduced to some actor in a mall eking out a living by dressing up in costume and pretending to listen to little kids.

The truth is, I miss believing in Santa. I miss believing in him the way some politicians in Washington probably miss believing in a government that isn't run by corrupt agendas and the almighty dollar. I know the accusation that ignorance is bliss, but where does faith come into play? I'm not talking about the kind of faith that forces one person's moral views on another. I'm talking about faith in the system, faith in people, and faith in our nation.

I like Obama's message of hope, not because I know for certain that he'll follow through on his promises, but because he gives me faith that we can become the noble country we claim to be. Even if it is just rhetoric, it moves me. His speeches make me want to fly an American flag on my rooftop, an act that has never once crossed my mind. He gives me faith that maybe, just maybe, we can work together as members of a community to repair the brokenness we see around us.

Sure, he's peddling hope, in the same way that my parents peddled the magic of Christmas. That magic left me with a longing to offer the same illusion to my own children, so that they, too, can experience the wonder of waking up on Christmas morning to see if Santa visited.

What is wrong with peddling hope? Have we become a nation so jaded, so wrapped in greed and corruption that we have given up on the one thing that has produced the most important moments in our collective story?

I'm not expecting a quick fix to our country's problems, just as I'm not expecting Santa to buy toys for my kids. But I'll still tell my children of Christmas magic, of the meaning of brotherhood, and hold to the hope that their future — as Americans — is a bright one.

Tonya L. Thompson, a former Memphis City Schools teacher, operates eWriter, Inc.

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