WaxWord

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August 28, 2008

Obama: Do We Dare Believe?

Obamania_2 My husband refused to watch Barack Obama.

He stayed in the bedroom, clicking on French television while the first African-American to seriously contest the U.S. presidency accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party before a throbbing wall of humanity in Invesco Field.

“This moment, this election, is our chance to keep the American promise alive,” Obama said, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech about his own lofty dreams.

    It was history, live. My husband wasn’t interested. 

     Me, I like Obama. How can I not? He’s likeable. He’s intelligent. Articulate. Empathic. Optimistic.

    Listening to him, it is possible – even just for a second or two – to leave behind the cynicism of our life experience. To embrace his belief, secretly our own, that as a country we can change. That as individuals we can grow and improve and collectively become a better society. That despite the obvious – that we are a deeply divided nation -- we can find common ground. 

     My husband doesn’t want to hear it. Which is kind of crazy. An immigrant to this country and a political junkie, my husband finally took the oath of American citizenship two years ago so that he could vote. This will be his first presidential election as a U.S. citizen, and yet he has sworn – since Hillary fell out of the running -- that he is going to sit it out. He will not vote for Obama, and he can’t support John McCain and the party of a failed administration.

Obama, my husband says, is a politician. A gifted orator. And the world is a hazardous place. Tonight he was offended by the spectacle of a mass, staged political event, a stadium packed with 80,000 people screaming the name of their new leader.  As a European, he’s seen such sights before.

“It’s manipulation,” he called out from the other room, disgusted. “It’s banal.”

I thought about this. I had found Obama’s speech moving. “All across America, something is stirring,” the candidate said. “What was lost in the past eight years was our sense of common purpose.” Now is the time, he said, to reclaim it.

In his speech, Obama denounced cynicism. He rejected “the same old politics” and its players. He dared to suggest that those who oppose abortion and those who support the right to choose can find things to agree about. That hunters in rural Ohio and those who fight gang-bangers in urban Cleveland can concur on banning automatic weapons.

He argued passionately for moderation. Would I have felt differently if the pulsing waves of people visible all the way up to the bleachers were cheering a different political message? Or a religious one? Would I have felt fearful, instead of moved? 

I was struck nonetheless by the unlikelihood of it all. Here’s a candidate close to my own age, vastly inexperienced for so weighty a position. In the moment, his argument is stirring. He conjures a vision that we yearn to grasp, a vision of change. Change is scary to most people. It is so much easier to choose the familiar, even when the familiar is not desirable.

But my husband, whose political instincts are finely honed, does not trust the message, or the man. He has believed before, and been disappointed. Barack Obama, he says, wants to be the president more than anything else, and his words are tailored to that goal. "This election has never been about me. It's about you," said Obama tonight. That's a good line, observed my husband, wryly.

    “I get it,” said Obama.

    Maybe he does. If so, do we dare believe it too?

Comments

Scott Foster

I understand your husband's sentiments. As a Roosevelt-Truman Democrat, I've been very disappointed with the last 20-years' crops of so-called "Democrats"; been fooled badly before. I may vote for Obama or leave it blank. Time will tell but I can tell you that the Democrats Obama has lined up with in Hawai`i are the same, lame corrupt Dems that I've grown very wary of on the whole. THAT part is what causes me to question Obama's judgement. Scott Foster, Honolulu

dennitzio

We all experience homophilism - looking for evidence to solely support one's preexisting assumptions, without examining the rest. Your husband (pardon me for knowing nothing about him other than this piece) seems to have been led to distrust public gatherings though his experience. So he *assumes* that the larger the event, the more false it MUST be. There is no real logic to that thought, it comes from an emotional response. There is no direct correlation between oration, popularity and honesty. Was MLK's "I have a dream" speech false just because he had a large crowd and was a gifted speaker?

"Emotional" responses are not invalid. They are a large part of why humans have succeeded the way we have - any leader can tell you that.

However, emotions are not logic. Your husband's feelings of distrust cannot be reasoned with, or even judged within the realm of reason. You can only attempt to reach him with your emotions. It sounds like it would have pushed fewer of his buttons had Obama been somewhere else, but since he has already come across as phony to your husband for a variety of other reasons, your husband simply sees the large event as proving Obama's falseness, case closed.

Me, I choose to always retain some naivete (even at 40). I know perfectly well that it is ridiculous to assume that Obama is the next JFK, but I thank God for JFK's example to the older crowd - that youth, gifted oration, and brilliance are not the logical opposite of honesty, sound judgement, or practical experience.

Sometimes being naive is just what the world needs. I hope that we can remain optimistic through the election - and that Obama lives long enough to prove us right for taking that risk. And, of course, I'm looking for as much evidence as I can to justify my naive assumption.

waxword

what a thoughtful analysis. i will pass it along to my husband and sees what he says (since i think internet comments are not yet in his universe).

waxword

many emails to me directly on this post. let's share our thoughts! i'm putting one up:
"I enjoyed your article on this topic and your comments about your husband's cynicism. However, they are all politicians from Ronald Reagan, the great "actor" to GW Bush who touted - I am the great uniter.

John McCain is saying and doing anything and everything he can to become president, just like anyone running for the office. If the candidate didn't, then he or she wouldn't be running.

I support Obama and hope he is successful. I liked John McCain a few years ago when he was a "maverick." Now he has sold his soul to the devil because his desire to become President is more important than being the maverick he now makes himself out to be. And then to pick someone with basically no experience to be ready to step into the role of President should something happen to him just doesn't make sense to me, especially since he has constantly said Obama has no experience. Being a Mayor of a small town and only one year and 8 months as a Governor doesn't give a person any more experience than Obama has.

Having spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force from 1970 to 1990 and a Vietnam Veteran, I respect John McCain for his service and what he endured during his time as a POW. But, that does not equate to having the right kind of experience either to become President.

This country needs change - another Boston Tea Party - and I believe Obama has a better chance at implementing change than John McCain.

Respectfully,


Dave Heironimus
Manitowoc, WI 54220"

waxword

two more emailed comments, from readers across the country, and the globe:

If you don't vote for Obama you will always regret it. Your chosen country may be one episode of ventricular fibrillation away from having a total no-no as president! Please pass it on to him!

Kind regards,
Koos Lubsen

waxword

I am like you -- I want to believe. This feels so different to me from any other presidential race or candidate in my adult life. Almost every word Obama says works for me. Your husband is understandably cynical -- especially if he has had his hopes raised in the past only to have them dashed.

But this is the first time I've had my hopes raised. It's the first time as an adult I have shed ***tears*** listening to a political candidate, or really **believed** something might be different. I suspect is how our parents felt about JFK. Yes, if Obama is the same old same old in the White House, I may end up feeling like your husband. But for now, I choose to believe.

It's the same reason we work on the Media Giraffe Project and Journalism That Matters -- I choose to believe we can work out a way to continue to provide people what the need to self govern.

If there is no hope, what then do you live for? Ask your husband that. I think he probably believes too, he's just got a thicker flak jacket he's got to be willing to take off.

Next event:
http://www.rebootingthenews.org

-- bill densmore

Bob McCarty

Frankly, I’m stunned to still find people who describe Barack Obama as a “gifted orator,” despite the fact that his oratorical prowess surfaces only when he is using a teleprompter. In a recent post, I highlighted a media interview during which Obama used variations of the word, “Uhh,” a total of 30 times during the interview that lasted two minutes and 47 seconds. That’s almost 10 times per minute!

Bob McCarty

Frankly, I’m stunned to still find people who describe Barack Obama as a “gifted orator,” despite the fact that his oratorical prowess surfaces only when he is using a teleprompter. In a recent post, I highlighted a media interview during which Obama used variations of the word, “Uhh,” a total of 30 times during the interview that lasted two minutes and 47 seconds. That’s almost 10 times per minute!

Bob McCarty

Frankly, I’m stunned to still find people who describe Barack Obama as a “gifted orator,” despite the fact that his oratorical prowess surfaces only when he is using a teleprompter. In a recent post, I highlighted a media interview during which Obama used variations of the word, “Uhh,” a total of 30 times during the interview that lasted two minutes and 47 seconds. That’s almost 10 times per minute!

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