Saturday, July 5, 2008

When I Think Of New Politics...

(Cross-posted at MyDD and DailyKos)

As a Clinton supporter, I think I had it wrong for a long time.

I heard Obama supporters talking about a new kind of politics - a kind which incorporated hope and change. For some reason, I decided this was a silly notion; I scoffed at Barack Obama's message: It was too idealistic, too vague. What did "Vote Hope" really mean? How had Obama rallied such a massive base of support around the nebulous concept of "hope"? Maybe that's part of what used to frustrate me - I simply didn't understand. Did his supporters believe his campaign would always stay positive? Every politician has to fight back against the opposition. They all get down in the mud, so didn't that make Obama just another typical politician?

It took me a very long time to formally "come to Obama," and an even longer time to understand his message of hope. I was looking at it the wrong way - I was trying to turn hope into something concrete and measurable, and I'd forgotten that some things can't be clinically analyzed or quantified. Hope isn't a static or tangible thing because it means something different to everyone. I do have hope for a new type of politics and a new kind of president in Barack Obama. I have faith in his ability to win the general election. He believes in the 50-State Strategy, and he perfected and implemented it with remarkable efficacy during the primaries. I have no doubt he'll use similar tactics in the fall as he makes the GOP fight for every stronghold. I have faith in his ability to govern and lead. He built his phenomenal campaign from the ground up and, with the help of his enthusiastic supporters, turned it into an unstoppable force.

He understands the true meaning of modern, people-powered politics. The sum he raised from small donors was unprecedented, and since signing up at his website, I've begun to understand why his supporters always felt so involved in his campaign. The number of emails which arrive in my mailbox from various listservs is staggering. (Of course, that's partially my fault for signing up for multiple groups and selecting the "receive all emails" option.)

Savvy politician though he is, he still isn't of the same mold as most of the other presidential candidates. Obama made a pleasant impression on me at one point during the Nevada debate. When Tim Russert asked him for his greatest weakness, I remember feeling that his answer was almost endearing:

I ask my staff member to hand me paper until two seconds before I need it because I will lose it. And my desk and my office doesn't look good. I've got to have somebody around me who is keeping track of that stuff. And that's not trivial; I need to have good people in place who can make sure that systems run. That's what I've always done, and that's why we run not only a good campaign, but a good U.S. Senate office. - Barack Obama

That was the first time Barack made me laugh - not because his answer was stupid, but because it was so painfully honest. As for my candidate and John Edwards? They gave beauty pagent answers. They each took one of their strengths and carefully crafted them into weaknesses:

I think weakness, I sometimes have a very powerful emotional response to pain that I see around me, when I see a man like Donnie Ingram (ph), who I met a few months ago in South Carolina, who worked for 33 years in the mill, reminded me very much of the kind of people that I grew up with, who's about to lose his job, has no idea where he's going to go, what he's going to do. I mean, his dignity and self-respect is at issue. And I feel that in a really personal way and in a very emotional way. And I think sometimes that can undermine what you need to do. - John Edwards

So I have tried to create opportunities, both on an individual basis, intervening to help people who have no where else to turn, to be their champion. And then to make those changes. And I think I can deliver change. I think I understand how to make it possible for more people to live up to their God-given potential. I get impatient. I get, you know, really frustrated when people don't seem to understand that we can do so much more to help each other. Sometimes I come across that way. I admit that. I get very concerned about, you know, pushing further and faster than perhaps people are ready to go. - Hillary Clinton

Hearing their answers, I experienced just the faintest sense of disappointment. As much as I adored them both, it struck me that their responses were very... old Washington.

Obama created a unique environment at his rallies and events. He created an atmosphere of unity and trust so complete that people were willing to pass their own babies through the crowd to reach him. The first time I heard about it, I was slightly appalled until I saw the gentleness and meticulous care with which his supporters handled other people's children. It's a scene I watched with no small amount of wonder and amazement.

Baby surfing!

Hillary Clinton inspired me because she showed me that a strong woman can do anything. Barack Obama inspires me because he showed me that the American Dream is still possible, still viable, still within reach. His story is inspiring: A young man, half white, half African American, who was brought up by a single mother who understood the meaning of a financially strapped existence - and yet, he defeated Hillary Clinton in the primary and is poised to become the first African American president of the United States. He has said that his story wouldn't be possible in any other country on earth. He is the ultimate embodiment of the American Dream. By a strange and poignant coincidence, he will be formally nominated on August 28, 2008, the 45th Anniversary Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have A Dream speech, and through that nomination, part of Dr. King's dream will become a reality - a reality which will be reinforced when Obama triumphs in November. If a victory like that won't put you on the hope train, I can't imagine what would.

So maybe his candidacy means something slightly different to everyone, and in my case, Barack Obama gives me hope because he is a symbol for those of us who long ago lost faith that the American Dream was still alive. Finally, I think I'm fairly certain I understand what the slogan "Vote Hope" really means.


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