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THE RACE

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I have a lot more in common with Mitt Romney than with Barack Obama.

By that, I mean that if I were being interviewed, I’d sound like Mitt Romney, not Barack Obama. I’d have a hard time making a coherent point, and my syntax would be questionable, and I’d be using words like “severe” when I really meant “extreme.” This is not because I’m incapable of being articulate; it’s just that under the glare of national scrutiny, I’d come off looking more like a regular person reacting to extraordinary circumstances. Much as I’d want to, I’d never come off as extraordinary.

Like Romney, because I can’t make heads or tails of what’s happening in Syria or Libya or Iraq, I’d be apt to say something that belies my lack of expertise, even though I’d gamely insert names of foreign capitals and leaders in hopes of fooling some percentage of the electorate.

And this is sort of beside the point, but I’m not all that poised and have terrible taste in music, so am perfectly capable of having done something as odd as singing America the Beautiful for no particular reason. Though, to be fair, Romney has better pitch than I do.

I’d like to think that if I were running for President, I’d realize that a broad knowledge base and incisive linguistic skills and a tendency towards curiosity and reflection were helpful assets, but maybe not. If my political party had convinced me that the only thing that mattered was getting rid of the other guy–the one with the foreign name and the dark skin–and that becoming super rich is the worthiest of all American aspirations, maybe I, too, would have decided that with my pile of money, pretending to know things was plenty good enough.

I’d like to think that if a blusterous talk radio personality who holds my party hostage to a daily stream of nonsensical bile were to publicly refer to a private citizen as “slut,” that my response would be something viscerally decent, like “That’s just ignorance talking.”  But then again, if I, like everyone else in my party, feared being used as his punching bag for the next 2 months, maybe I’d think twice, too.

I know I’m not one bit like Barack Obama because my skin is simply not thick enough to have withstood the vitriol that’s been directed his way for four years. If I’d been victimized by a seething, irrational cauldron of resentment and jealousy and hatred, been vilified for my name and my birthplace, my mother and my father, my college grades and my preference in lettuce, and above all, my race–yes, we mustn’t forget race–I just know that at some point I would have just lost all composure and screamed back, “I’m President, dammit! What have YOU done lately?” I just know that the qualities he possesses–grace under pressure and humor in the face of lies and poise when being baited–would find a way to elude me.

When asked to weigh in on the death of an unarmed black teenager, my clumsy allusion to race would sound something like, “Of course, he was killed because he was black, who are we kidding?” I know I would be utterly incapable of a brief, eloquent, and altogether sorrowful statement like “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

And I know for a fact that I would never inspire a magazine cover as beautifully designed as the one above, or an award-winning political poster by a street artist, or even a pretty great logo.

For those of us who saw in Barack Obama a brand of idealism and conviction, talent and motivation, restraint and gravitas that we admired partly because we knew we didn’t possess these things ourselves, November 4, 2008 was a day of giddy validation–validation of the qualities we thought everyone ought to see as valuable in a President. For Obama’s detractors, though, it was more akin to having had a soft spot for the Berlin wall, and then being forced to stand and merely watch as the wall came down to global jubilation. To have a narrative wrested away so decisively, to be excluded from a collective, transcendent moment, leaves a bitter taste that lasts a long time–or, at the very least, four years.

I don’t want Mitt Romney to be my President. It’s true that we don’t share the same age or birthplace or religion or bank account or number of children, but that hardly matters. In ways that are vastly more important, he’s a lot like me–and that’s kind of depressing.

But the other guy–the one with the father he barely knew, and the mother who died too young, the iconoclast; the outsider with the hard-won, true American story, who, in ways that matter the most, is nothing at all like me–that’s the kind of guy I think should be President. And at least for four years, against the steepest odds imaginable, he was.

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