Thinking About the Unthinkable

In 1962 a Rand Corporation strategist named Herman Kahn wrote a controversial book on nuclear war, which he entitled “Thinking About the Unthinkable.”  The title came to my mind this week, as I listened to radio reports of polls that put Barack Obama’s lead at anywhere from five to 10 percentage points.  No, his election is not unthinkable to me.  Two years ago, I wrote him off as a fluke.  A year ago I worried out loud about his lack of experience.  As I write this, I am prepared to vote for him.
The “unthinkable” for me today is that some racist out there somewhere, hearing the same polling stats, is oiling his rifle right now.  That’s what scares the heck out me, as the countdown to Election Day approaches its final hours.
We’ve been there before, and thinking about it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  This month marks the 45th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.  Despite all the conspiracy theories, the thousands of books, the Oliver Stone movie, and all the rest, I continue to believe that a weird little nut named Oswald acted alone.  Armed with a cheesy Italian war-surplus rifle, he killed the president… and, with him, the dreams of many in my generation.
Forty years ago, two more worthless cuckoos killed Bobby and Martin.  I shall forever be amazed at colleagues who wax nostalgic about the Sixties.  The decade was a time of terror, dissention, drugs and war.  And madmen robbed me of the three heroes of my youth.
Why will I vote for Obama, when I have said so often that I would not?
First and foremost, because John McCain has let me — and such GOP icons as Christopher Buckley and Colin Powell — down… way down.  It’s not that he is behaving like Hubert Humphrey in ’68, when Gonzo-journalist Hunter Thomson likened HHH to a bull moose in heat crashing through a Wisconsin forest.  Old men may be forgiven for excessive zeal in their last runs for the White House.
No, I could forgive him for that.  What I can’t forgive is his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.  Palin makes Obama look like an elder statesman.  Her nomination is an insult to every thinking American.  True, P.T. Barnum once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”  But, folks, are we really that dumb?  I sure hope not.  But, if I were sure we weren’t, I wouldn’t be worrying about the unthinkable.
Second, whether Obama is good or merely mediocre in the White House, his election will do more to put behind us the centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation, than anything else that I can imagine.  His presidency simultaneously will send a conciliatory message to what we used to refer to as the “Third World.”  From the Bush Doctrine to the son of a black African in one election… what opportunities to rebuild America’s international image this offers!
Last, but not least, something in my aging gut tells me this guy may be the real deal, despite his limited international expertise.  His aplomb in the three debates was exemplary.  Hilary Clinton had me worrying about the crisis-call at three o’clock in the morning.  I begin to believe that that call, when it comes (as it inevitably must), won’t shake this guy up at all.  Besides, he has the good sense to surround himself with the best and the brightest, from Joe Biden to Warren Buffet.
So, I say to the Secret Service: be on your tippy toes, folks.  Keep this candidate safe.  He may be America’s Great Black Hope.  In any event, he deserves a chance to change the course of our ship of state, which Mr. Bush has driven over shoals, nearly tearing out its bottom, and headed toward history’s rocks.  Keep him safe and sound, fellas.  I have come to believe that right now we need this guy.
[Jim Castagnera is the Associate Provost/Associate Counsel  at Rider University.  His novels and a collection of his columns are available at]


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