It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way-in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Call it “A Tale of Two Countries”-that’s where we are right now-or maybe “Great Expectations,” after another of Dickens’ novels.

And here we are suddenly with a Great Expectation before us-a smart, talented, young black man, running for president, exuding charisma and tempting us to hope, asking us to believe that real change is possible.

Most of us are comfortable in our extended disillusionment. When was the last time a political figure aroused such great expectations? Most people answer Bobby Kennedy. That was 40 years ago, a long time to go without hope.

Now Barack Obama is doing it again, and a lot of people don’t want to go along. Too much trouble to hope. Too many ways to be disappointed.

Can this country really elect an African American? Can we elect someone who is smart, talented and principled? Someone who might actually be able to unify the country? Someone who might finally bring about a workable health care system that includes everyone? Who might actually maintain his integrity and stay true to his values despite operating in a system that seems to corrupt everyone else? Someone who will take a sane approach to foreign policy and restore our reputation throughout the world? Someone who will make this country part of the global-warming solution instead of being the problem?

Could we actually elect someone who will make a difference instead of just perpetuating a failed political system, who could genuinely help this country revive its fundamental ideals and fulfill its promise as a beacon of democracy instead of the sad imposter we have become? Could a young black kid actually grow up to be not just a good president but a great one?

Seems far-fetched, but if it’s not Barack Obama, it’s no one.

He can’t do it alone. He needs to win in November by a landslide, so the status quo will run scared. That’s where we come into play. The system is so deeply entrenched and corrupt. A landslide is the only hope to put the perpetuators back on their heels. Otherwise, the knives will be sharpened and the obstruction will be coordinated and intense.

But Obama is our only chance. The time is right, coming off a disastrous eight years for the country. The person is right-eloquent, charismatic, smart and fair-minded. Able to see both sides of the divide. Able to talk to people on both sides of the divide. Most likely we won’t ever have this opportunity again. If we blow it, we’re done. The long slide of the past four decades will accelerate, and it’s most unlikely anyone will be able to stop it-or even try.

This isn’t your ordinary election. This is our last best chance. So is there an argument to be made for raising our expectations this time-for getting our hopes up? You bet there is.

In the last two elections, this country put a gun to its head and pulled the trigger. We can’t afford to keep playing electoral roulette. Voting for another Republican would be nothing short of collective suicide. We would have to be insane to give people who don’t believe in government another four years to screw it up even more.

That doesn’t mean the Democrats are the answer. It doesn’t mean Obama is our savior. But right now, he’s our only hope.

The only option.

Will this be the age of wisdom or the age of foolishness? The epoch of belief or the epoch of incredulity? The season of Light or the season of Darkness? The spring of hope or the winter of despair?

According to Dickens, we’ll always have both, and no doubt that’s true, but though we can’t control the outcome, we can still choose one over the other when we vote. In fact, we must choose. Whether we vote or not, we’re choosing. We can give ourselves a fighting chance or we can settle comfortably into the hopelessness of a corrupt political system that very definitely does not have our best interests at heart. We can choose to surrender to fear or we can choose a Great Expectation. We can choose a visionary or an old-guard, status quo “realist.”

We can choose one country over another-a tale of two countries.

The choice has never been clearer.

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