He has a cool name. Barak Obama. It’s just fun to say. He's not a million years old. I know that's agist, but I get so tired of decisions made by people who I fundamentally can't understand and who can't understand me because the generation gap is just too wide. He's not bad looking either.
Last night I watched Frontline. It was a two-hour special on our “Choice 2008,” profiling Barak Obama and John McCain. They began with clips from Barak’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
“Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely,” he begins. “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
"Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy; our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
“…it's not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people.
“If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
“It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: "E pluribus unum," out of many, one.
“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.”
“We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?
“I'm not talking about blind optimism here, the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't think about it, or health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That's not what I'm talking. I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.
“Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead.”
A few days later, John McCain was speaking at the Republican National Convention.
“At a time of deep distress at home, as tyranny strangled the aspirations to liberty of millions, and as war clouds gathered in the East and West, Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepted his party's nomination by observing: ‘There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.’
“The awful events of September 11, 2001, declared a war we were vaguely aware of, but hadn't really comprehended how near the threat was and how terrible were the plans of our enemies. It's a big thing, this war. It's a fight between a just regard for human dignity and a malevolent force that defiles an honorable religion by disputing God's love for every soul on earth. It's a fight between right and wrong, good and evil.
“We are engaged in a hard struggle against a cruel and determined adversary. Our enemies have made clear the danger they pose to our security and the very essence of our culture: liberty.
“You remember how we felt when the serenity of a bright September morning was destroyed by a savage atrocity so hostile to all human virtue we could scarcely imagine any human being capable of it.
“We were united, first in sorrow and anger, then in recognition we were attacked not for a wrong we had done, but for who we are: a nation united in a kinship of ideals, committed to the notion that the people are sovereign, not governments, not armies, not a pitiless theocracy, not kings, mullahs or tyrants, but the people. In that moment ... in that moment, we were not different races. We were not poor or rich. We were not Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. We were not two countries. We were Americans. All of us, despite the differences that enliven our politics, are united in the one big idea that freedom is our birthright and its defense is always our first responsibility. All other responsibilities come second.
“We are Americans first, Americans last, and Americans always. Let us argue -- let us argue our differences, but remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy, and take courage from the knowledge that our military superiority is matched only by the superiority of our ideals and our unconquerable love for them. Our adversaries are weaker than us in arms and men, but weaker still in causes. They fight to express -- they fight to express a hatred for all that is good in humanity. We fight for love of freedom and justice, a love that is invincible.
“Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong. Do not yield. Do not flinch. Stand up. Stand up with our president and fight. We're Americans. We're Americans, and we'll never surrender. They will.”
Barak talks about unity in a way that makes us believe we truly can help each other, that makes us believe that wisdom, compassion, and dignity really can hold us together. McCain talks about unity in a way that makes us believe if we don’t hang together we’ll all hang separately. He sets up an a boogey man and then tells us how great we can be when we all fight on the same side. This is not unity. This is divisiveness and fear-mongering honey coated. This is the pig and John McCain’s calculated “We are united in sorrow and anger” is the lipstick.
Maybe I don’t want to be united with people who are grieving and angry, vengeful and miserable? That doesn’t sound like a pleasant car ride to me. Maybe I want to be united with people who are loving and compassionate, determined and realistic? In truth, I think those are all the same people, or they have the potential to be anyway. But I know which side I want to see, which side I feel can make a positive difference, and which leader can bring that out.
Besides, Barak has a sense of humor. One of his staffers told a story of a committee meeting in which Obama scribbled a note for his aid which read “SHOOT. ME. NOW.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve written something of a similar nature in the margins of my notebook during some endlessly boring meeting or lecture. It makes me laugh and it makes me feel good to know that he’s human. Even if we share nothing else, we both know what it’s like to be bored to tears and we both understand irony. I think a sense of humor is essential in a leader. Anyone who is serious all the time has lost that necessary perspective which a leader so desperately needs.
Plus, his mama’s from Kansas, which is right next door, so he’s practically family.