Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Audacity of Obama's Hope

"Who is Obama, really?"

I'm hearing a lot of that lately. It's a way for people to belittle Obama's message of hope and change. They're saying that "hope" and "change" are empty marketing terms that pull at the hearts of unhappy Americans and con them into voting for someone who isn't experienced enough to make change happen.

Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search For Meaning, is an account of his observations of people who stayed alive, against all odds, in Nazi concentration camps, based on a single gossamer thread of hope that their spouse or children were still alive. Upon learning that the spouse or children were actually dead, Frankl watched these people wither and finally die. They had hung every molecule of their being on one single vision, and when that vision disappeared, there was nothing left for these poor desperate people to focus upon. Frankl's premise is that man must set his sights upon a broader vision. If I believe that everything I am is wrapped up in my job, and then I lose that job, I am in big trouble. I may or may not die from that loss, but if I am to survive, I must set my sights higher. There must be a meaning greater than the things, people and events that constantly flow in and out of our lives.

Hope is a powerful force. If Obama is using it as a marketing slogan, he's no dummy. If it is an empty promise, he is, well, an asshole. But, is he promising that he will single-handedly raise our beloved country from the dead? Not that I've heard. According to

Basically, the other candidates are all saying, "I will do this," "I will do that," "I will be there in this way for you," as they recite the fine print of issues to show what they would do as president. Indeed, most of the horserace coverage from this and other debates is on the points scored by the candidates as they joust on this wavelength.

Obama, on the other hand, is not emphasizing the "I" pronoun. He is all about we and you. "We can do this." "We can do that." "If we come together, we can achieve ..." The former grass-roots organizer is making his candidacy inclusive. Obama is asking people to join him, implying that he will listen, hear them and include them in solutions that rely on the best in them and in society, not the worst.

What Obama is saying is that together, we can survive, together we can accomplish great things, fueled by hope. He has the audacity to challenge Americans to get off of their asses, and he is leading them to take responsibility and take action, towards a vision of a better America, and a better world.

So, tell me again why hope is just an empty marketing slogan? The American people are confused, disillusioned, some are even hopeless. And it isn't getting any better. The real estate bubble is bursting, personal debt is sky high, and in a country almost completely dependent on the automobile, oil by the barrel has reached $100. Goodbye SUV. Hello Yugo. We are ensnared in an ugly war that none of the supposedly "electable" presidential candidates are willing to end (including, by the way, Obama). We have been lied to, and played for fools. We are cynical, and sarcastic, which is the other face of hopelessness. In other words, we are starving for leadership, for someone who can light the banked flames in our hearts, and inspire us to greatness.

Once upon a time, I was promoted into managing more than 20 people, and 1500 customers, scattered along the west coast of America. I hadn't even applied for the job. I had never managed people before. My employees had degrees in electronics engineering. I had no degree at all. I was inexperienced, to say the least. And I was overwhelmed. I reached out for some help from a guy in human resources. He asked me what I was committed to. I didn't know. "You have one week to decide, and to call me back with your vision." he said. I decided I was committed to the satisfaction of my customers, and the personal and professional growth of my employees. I called him back. He said, "Fine. Now, make sure that every decision you make, is one that supports those two commitments." Life became easier after that. I related my vision to my employees. I became their resource, and let them be the technical experts. I inspired them with a vision of a better work day, where clients were happier, crises were averted, and each employee had a chance for recognition and growth.

I may have been inexperienced, but I was smart, had a vision, and I was successful. Hell, I was only 5'4" and a girl (heaven forbid). If I can do it, so can our next president.

So, America? What are we committed to? You have one week to decide, and get back to me.


Mauigirl said...

Great post. This is why I am supporting Obama. We need a president with vision. We haven't had one for a long time. (Remember George Bush Sr. dismissively talking about "the vision thing"?). I agree - I don't think Obama needs to know how to run the government to run the government. He can have people who can do that. But he is the one who can set a tone and a level of accountability and raise a bar of behavior that will be head and shoulders above what we have now.

That is, if he is sincere. I think he is. In fact, I'm betting on it. Because I don't feel this way about Hillary, despite her competence. I don't think she would raise that bar.

Aaron & Alaine said...

I talked about this in a related way at my blog, remarking on the experience issue. The republicans (of which I'm one) feel that the experience factor will be very much in their favor in the general, but what I'm looking for is judgment. Bush's team was supposed to be very experienced and they have made many a mistake and acted very unlike republicans when it comes to fiscal stewardship. So experience is relevant and should be taken into account, but you can have good experience and bad experience, just like you can have good change and bad change. I'm ready for a President who is calling us to higher ground. I'm ready for a president who's very personhood makes a statement about who we are and what is possible in this country. I'm ready for a little inspiration. I don't need a Savior, I got Jesus and he has that covered. But I do need a good president to run the country in a way that me and my family can make our way in it without having to fight our own government's foolishness. Barack's vision is more appealing than what the other folks are selling.

OMYWORD! said...

Hey Maui - I agree with you. I think that both Obama and Hillary care about their country. But I think Hillary may have, out of necessity, become too much of a political animal. I can understand that tactic, but she has lost her humanness - is she campaigning to get the votes of beltway insiders and the main stream press, or is she trying to capture the hearts of the American people? Based on her campaign funding, she may have just said to herself, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." But I prefer rising above all that, and working for true change.

aaron & alaine - thanks so much for stopping by. I'm heading over to your blog next. Experience vs. good judgment is a great point. I was stunned when I read Obama's statements that he made before the vote that got us into the Iraq war. He was prescient, and wise. Cheney said that a war n Iraq would be a quagmire - so he knew it as well. But Cheney is an idealogue. His reasons for going into Iraq had nothing to do with security or democracy. So, he sacrificed his good judgment (and billions of our tax dollars and disrupted millions of Iraqi lives, etc.) in order to satisfy his ideological goals.

I'm ready for a little inspiration too. Starving for it. I've been so discouraged over here in my little blog. Sometimes it's hard for me to lift a finger to write. So - thanks to all of you for joining in the dialogue.