Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama steps ahead

To my liberal friends, and you know who you are, you were right about Obama. Those who introduced me to him after the 2004 Democratic convention. Those who called him a rising star. Those who said he was something special. If the matter was in any doubt, he dispelled it Tuesday morning with a speech on race. A speech unlike anything any of my peers have seen in our lifetime.

Part lawyer, part community organizer, part philosopher, part black, part white, part father, part husband, Obama brought all sides to bear on the issue of race, turned the matter on its head, and extended the discussion into a new era. He cast his vision for this country, a vision that does not avoid the issue of race, but talks about it honestly.

I like what Thomas Mann from the Brooking’s institution said. “It was honest, frank, measured in tone, inclusive and hopeful. I don't know whether it will be sufficient to stem a racial backlash against his candidacy, but he clearly demonstrated today his capacity to lead public opinion and not simply be a slave to it. Indeed, I would say he appeared wise beyond his years and genuinely presidential.”

I liked how he stood there bravely, talked about the issue, and challenged us all to recognize it but also to continue progressing into the future. I have a lot of friends who are disgusted with the slow pace of change in this country. Their frustrations are warranted, but the point is that we can move forward and we are moving forward. It is not easy to progress with 300 million people each with different background and different dreams. It takes time. But that we can move forward is the genius of this amazing country.

I think Barack Obama will have his work cut out for him in the general election. It is far too easy to be zealously and single-mindedly patriotic and black and white. Far too many people find cold comfort in such singletons. Obama sees the complexity of society and does not shy away from it but finds, in it’s myriad of issues and colors and dreams, America.

America is the Rev. Wrights, and the Geraldine Ferraros, and the John McCains, and even the George W. Bushes. It’s the evangelicals and the agnostics. And if we are to solve our problems it will take us all, embracing not our differences but our commonalities.

I’ve always liked that approach by Obama as opposed to Hillary’s more narrow raging-bull approach to change. She comes across as strident, overconfident, and, in McLuhan terms, too hot. She’s off-putting to many because if you’re not with her you’re her enemy and, like the first Clinton administration, that often leads to stalemate. She’s the flip side to the George W. Bush coin that goes nowhere.

Good for Obama for engaging us on a level commiserate with our responsibility. He confronted a systemic problem head-on in a way few could. Did his speech answer everything? No, and it wasn't meant to. It was meant to move the discussion to a higher plane and it did. And it was the most anyone could have said about race and this country in a short speech. It's hard to imagine how it could have been said any better.

Surely, it showed a reasoned and thoughtful individual who said what he said not to impress or to pander or to collect votes, but to enhance understanding. He came out and cast a vision, and showed us how he sees our history and our future, and in the process he proved he is ready to lead. Without a doubt it transcended other politicians in my lifetime, including those currently running against Obama. Those who have neither experienced nor pondered systemic issues in this country. They do not know them, and would never dare to address them, and therefore they do not clearly see the opportunities.

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