I am writing this column several days before the 22 states holding Democratic primaries (New Mexico among them) will have made their decisions on the matter of the party’s next presidential candidate on Super Tuesday.
Thus, the extravagant praise I am about to heap on one of the two leading contenders may be either a) too little, too late or b) beside the point. Nevertheless, the muse, once awakened, must be obeyed, so …
I leaned toward casting my vote for Dennis Kucinich for the past year, largely because of his positions on the occupation of Iraq and the need for a national single-payer health care system. I know, I know--Dennis Kucinich. He never had a chance (the national media made sure of that), but isn’t the whole point of our electoral process to give the individual voter the opportunity to say what direction he or she wants our country to take?
When Kucinich pulled out after New Hampshire, I felt a little like a new divorcé thrust back into the dating scene. I had to take a closer look at the other eligible Democratic candidates, all of whom are head and shoulders above the unimpressive Republican roster of contenders.
Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton: a tough choice for me, as each would make an excellent president. (Of course, compared with the current occupant of the White House, so would Mike, my barber, but I digress.)
What swung me behind Obama, in the end, was the energy he seems able to ignite in a citizenry long afflicted with political ennui. And, honestly, of all the problems we face--crushing national debt, global warming, the frightening loss of support and respect for us from the world community, health care and education systems sorely in need of reform--I still think our most pressing need is to re-establish the sense of urgency and the willingness to get involved in the American people.
Until that attitude of “ownership” is alive and well, we won’t ever be able to deal with any of the others. It has been the absence of that sense of ownership that has permitted lobbyists for special interests, international corporations and media monopolists to ooze into that vacuum and assert their own ownership of the nation.
He radiates a confidence not in himself but in us.
No American political figure since the '60s has been able to re-spark the American public’s sense of urgency for rolling up its collective sleeves and working on changing our society for the good the way Obama seems able to do.
Not Al Gore (for all his brilliance in identifying the problem), not Ralph Nader (for all his tireless work on sounding the alarm), not Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton nor any of the other undoubtedly dedicated and occasionally brilliant political leaders who have crossed the stage since the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., have had the gift of inspiration that Obama has.
When he gave his now-standardized stump speech in Santa Fe last week, the energy he generated in the crowd was incredible. But even more exciting was that his biggest applause-generators were his calls to the assembly to get involved themselves.
“I want to help you pay for your college education,” he told young people who were heavily spread throughout the almost 4,000 gathered to hear him. (Loud applause and cheers from the crowd interrupted at this point.)
“But in return, I want you to give the community your service; in hospitals, inner-city schools, working with the elderly and the mentally ill; working in the Peace Corps or environmental projects …” and this produced much louder cheering and even more-prolonged applause.
This guy knows the old salesman’s trick of asking people to do something if you want them to buy what you’re selling. But his appeal is far more than a slick bit of salesmanship. He truly has the ability to leave his audience seeing a broader vision than when he began speaking. I think this is because he is focused on the bigger picture. He radiates a confidence not in himself but in us. He truly expects the American people to be able to dig deep and find the answers to all our problems as well as the resources to get the job done.
He also talks a lot about hope—not the Pollyanna-ish, naïve belief that all will be well if we just keep on grinning mindlessly--but hope as the antithesis of fear. Hope as the conviction that we don’t have to resort to gnawing on our own extremities if we are threatened. Hope as the polar opposite of all that the catchphrase “9/11” has come to mean ("pull in your head and extend your claws").
Hope, in other words, as the mindset that no matter how tough things get, we don’t have to surrender our core values and beliefs as Americans. Nothing we will ever face will require us to do that. And those who would suggest otherwise are simply fear-mongerers.
I don’t know if Sen. Obama will ever be president. I hope he will. But to have had my faith in this country and its people restored again through his simple, inspirational eloquence has been wonderful in itself. Yes, we can!