Commentary: A Confounding Election

Buffalo, NY – The upcoming presidential election confounds me.

Growing up as I did, in the 1950s, I was happy to know that President Eisenhower, a genuine war hero, was presiding over our nation. Not only was he a 5-star general, he was the benevolent, surrogate grandfather who watched over me and my classmates.

We believed, unquestionably, in the inherent goodness and strength of America back then. Who couldn't? The US had decisively won the Second World War and held the godless North Koreans above the 38th parallel. Europe had been rebuilt and our military was more powerful than the Soviets'.

It seemed as if everyone lived in big homes filled with new appliances and assorted labor-saving devices. Stylish automobiles traversed the countryside on endless superhighways while jet planes painted cloud-like ribbons in the air. Our schools were swollen with students, teachers and resources. We dutifully lined up for polio shots and practiced duck and cover drills with patriotic fervor and determination.

But something began to change on the cusp of the 1960s. Little Rock and Montgomery crept into our national lexicon. Civil rights superseded civil defense and a vibrant, youthful leader challenged us to extend our freedoms to other peoples, to expand our communal horizons and to explore new frontiers. The nation moved, haltingly at first, out of a comfortable complacency and into an age of unparalleled innovation, discovery and extraordinary achievement.

The election of 1960 was a watershed in American history. The strides made during the tumultuous decade that followed, reshaped our nation and influenced the course of human history. As a result of that election, the halcyon decade of contentment and conformity yielded to an underlying impatience and an imperative for change.

Nearly a half-century later, the changes brought about by that fateful election reverberate in our daily lives. The culture war that shapes our national discourse and poisons our political system was born in that singular presidential campaign.

We now find ourselves at a similar juncture. John McCain is the heir apparent to a legacy that evokes Eisenhower and a status quo ascribed to a romanticized and fictional, bygone era. Meanwhile, Barack Obama embodies the energy, confidence, and vision of a younger, untested JFK.

Shall we stay the course and continue on our familiar but time-worn path or will we chart a new direction and (with apologies to Captains Kirk and Picard) boldly go where no human has gone before?

Both presidential candidates offer change to the electorate. As a citizen, I will succumb neither to slogans nor sound-bytes. This election will be decided not by proclaiming change you can believe in. Rather, it will depend on how one answers this question: Can you believe in change?

I believe that our nation is at its best when it challenges itself to change, not because it must, but because it can.

Listener-Commentator Bruce Mitchell is a school counselor and coach in Hamburg.

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