Barack in Atlanta: Real Deal vs. Real Ideal

There are many among us for whom political rhetoric is like a tampon commercial. We groan at the grossness and change the channel. Just like a tampon, the parties push their elite politicians on us whenever a new cycle comes around. They hope that we will buy into the promise of a worry free life, where pain, stain and embarrassment are things of the past. It’s our rights as Americans not to have to worry, and, by God and George Washington (and Alfred E. Newman) the uncandid candidates insist that if we elect them, our concerns about money and health, war and education, will abate.

Then there’s Barack Obama, the Democratic senator from Illinois whose rhetoric seems to be on an entire other level. He doesn’t tell us not to worry. He doesn’t tell us everything is going to be OK once we elect him.

This past Saturday, Barack Obama took his message to my backyard, and spoke in front of a crowd of over 20,000 people at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Whether he is, as his campaign claims “the real deal,” I don’t know. What I do get is that his ideals are in the right place. This is not some Pollyanna politico. This is someone who understands that change doesn’t start when we “hold our noses” at the voting booth, as he put it. He understands that change comes through action.

“Change happens when people come together,” he told the crowd. He said that politically, “we have a tradition that says we are united as a people,” and that we have “mutual responsibilities to each other.”

This is where I am turned on. The present administration, and many of the candidates in the 2008 Presidential race (including some popular Democrats), say that our responsibility is to support them, and their agenda, and believe they will take care of everything. But then they fail and they spin the failures. “And when we don’t believe the spin,” Obama said, they “blame it on gay people, on immigrants, on Democrats.”

“I am ready to lead this country and take responsibility for the challenges we face,” he said.

The funny thing is, when he got to the typical, “but I can’t do it alone” pitch, Barack Obama did not ask for money or time. He wanted us to understand that “all of us have a stake in a better America.”

“When ordinary people stand up and do extraordinary things,” he said, “We create American history.” Sure, a cynic could see his rhetoric in describing the results of historic action as affecting all Americans (not just African Americans, or Native Americans, or Asian Americans, or European Americans), as an appeal to the historic moment his possible election portends. But it’s equally true that we haven’t had a leader this committed to change probably since Lincoln.

Make no mistake. The change is not that we would have our first ever African American president, though that’s a huge thing. The change is that we could have a president that believes in activism in the way the Kenndeys did. There really is potential here for a new vision of being an American.

I’ve said in many recent posts that we need an activist candidate, and Barack Obama certainly has that credential, at least in his past. The cool thing is he is inviting all of us to be a cause for change, to take responsibility, whether we support him or not. That speaks to me.

“It’s time,” he said, “for us to kick off our bedroom slippers and put on our marching shoes.”

Well, I’m letting my fingers do the marching for now. I hope, dear readers, that you are at least as motivated as I am.

One more thing: despite how impressed I was with the Senator’s appeal, I am not necessarily ready to endorse him. HOWEVER, the beauty of the size of the field and the time until the election is that I can support the message of many candidates with the purpose of empowering them to reach as many ears and eyes and hearts as possible.

Endorsements get closed in a campaign’s steamer trunk to show off along the trail. An empowered candidate gives back because they know that people like them and what they have to say. It’s like a beautiful circle, where we acknowledge the possibility of their vision and they acknowledge the viability of a vision that has such broad support. They keep giving voice to it and we keep talking about it. It’s ideal!


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