Friday, August 29, 2008

Barack Obama and the Promise of America

Expectation was high, the symbolism heavy.

Forty-five years ago, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his profoundly stirring “I Have a Dream” speech on the Mall in Washington that changed America. Surely Barack Obama, a champion of change himself, would seize the moment with soaring rhetoric of his own to connect with King and inherit his mantle during his nomination acceptance speech.

In one of his wisest decisions, Obama chose not to compete in the rhetoric department with King, an impossible task anyway. Instead of soaring, he was down-to-earth. He had judged the mood of the American people perfectly and that sensibility turned his good speech into a great one.

America is hurting. Millions are out of work. Bankruptcies are multiplying. Families are selling off their possessions on eBay to put food on the table. Meanwhile, George Bush’s failed presidency continues to pour $54 billion dollars every six months on the Iraq war.

Against that backdrop, Obama made his case. He defined the American promise as one “that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect. It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road …”

Obama attacked McCain for being out-of-touch with ordinary Americans and with the crisis the country is facing. “I just think he doesn’t know.” “… John McCain doesn’t get it.” Tough, uncompromising talk. It will be interesting to see what verbal calisthenics McCain performs to respond to Obama.

Even before he was done with his speech, the conservative chattering class was attacking Obama. Leading the pack was columnist Charles Krauthammer who has been recycling his obsessive notion that Obama is a narcissist “devoted to crafting, and chronicling, his own life.” The junior senator from Illinois has apparently nothing to show in terms of ideas and experience. What Mr. Krauthammer conveniently forgets is that the worst presidents in U.S. history came with hefty resumes (James Buchanan (1857-1861), Richard Nixon (1969, 1974), to name only two). Barack Obama has not walked the corridors of power in Washington long enough to merit the appreciation of neocons. How dare this black pretender to the throne rise to the highest office in the land, whines Krauthammer.

However, in this defining moment, America needs a president who maybe poor in Washington experience but rich in life-shaping experiences. From Hawaii to Jakarta to Los Angeles to New York to Nairobi to Chicago, Obama acquired a sense of purpose in life that sets him apart from politicians the pundits revere. He is uniquely qualified to bring about the change the country desperately needs. Voters are finally beginning to get it, even as John McCain and the conservatives and the chattering class don’t. Call it destiny, call it cycle of history, call it what you want, but after eight disastrous years, America is ready to move from the darkness of despir into the bright sunshine of hope, with president Obama leading the way. November cannot come soon enough.

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