Monday, February 04, 2008

Why I Prefer Obama to Clinton: Sometimes Inspiration Does Matter Just as Much as Persperation

What is the first thing you learned, when you were in elementary school, about Dr. Martin Luther King?

I'll lay a dollar it was that he Had a Dream.

Schoolchildren across the nation and around the world memorize this part of his famous Lincoln Memorial speech:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
Schoolchildren memorize this part of speech, and sometimes, they act it out its imagery together, children of different races and religions and ethnicities standing together in their integrated classroom, holding hands.

And what was the first thing you learned about John F. Kennedy, besides the fact of his assassination? Well, it may have been the inauguration speech where he said this:
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

and this:

So let us begin anew - remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us.

and of course, this:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.

Of course, both of these men worked very hard, when they weren't speaking, to bring about serious social change. Both of these men led rich, interesting and sometimes controversial personal lives. Both of these men had help, lots of help, from other men and women who thought and planned and worked and fought to make the visions of these two leaders succeed.

But that's not what our teachers teach us about, first, in school.

Why do we learn about the words before we learn about the actions?

Because these words are powerful. They are more than idle speech. These words illuminate a vision.

The words embody the vision.

The vision precedes the action. The vision motivates the action. The vision and the action and the words that help to power both are inextricably intertwined.

These words have a power that allows them to both mirror and transcend their historical context. If these words were found, a thousand years from now, written on a scrap of stone, after our society had collapsed and our history had been forgotten, and someone somewhere in such an imaginary future understood how to read them, these words would still have the power to move.

A lot of people have compared Senator Barack Obama to JFK and Dr. King because he seems to possess a similar ability to inspire and motivate people with his words.

A lot of other people argue that Barack Obama is not entitled to these great men's mantles, because he has not yet proven to us that his actions will match his words.

And I think that second group of people are right about one thing: Barack Obama has not yet proven himself to be an epic leader. We do not yet have proof that his actions will speak even louder than his words.

But I also think we should not discount the power of his inspirational words.

The vision precedes the action.

We are a nation discouraged and disheartened by economic uncertainty, natural disaster and war. We are a nation that has seemed all too often in recent history bitterly divided over how to solve the problems we face as a people.

We are a nation desperately in need of a new vision.

The words embody the vision. The vision precedes the action. The action needs the words.

So I say, if Barack Obama's words inspire people to come together across racial and class lines and even across party divides, if those words inspire people who have never voted in their lives to come out and participate in the political process-- if those words make some people who have lost all hope in their government begin to feel hope again-- then those words are not empty promises. Those words are already accomplishing the most important part of what they have to do.

Those words are moving people. Together.

And if his words can do that in a primary, I have hope his words can also do that in a presidency.

I have hope.


Unknown said...

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Melanie D. said...

Wow, you said it.
Although I won't be upset if Clinton is the candidate for the democratic party, I think I'm leaning Obama. He inspires me. He is more enjoyable to listen to. He has this fire that makes me want to light one under my own arse.

You really said it.

R said...

i'm too pessimistic. i swear, i'm such a downer. obama may inspire, he may talk a good game. . . and he may be able to follow through on it. it's possible. but i'd much rather place my future in the hands of someone who talks policy, who lets me know exactly what and exactly how. i want to know the nitty gritty, i want to know the details. and i'm so disappointed that obama hasn't given me enough of this. even his website, which provides many more details than he ever verbally does, still does not provide as much detail as clinton's.

that said, obama may be the democrats best chance at winning against mccain. because mccain's a rather moderate conservative, and because of the (often misguided) hatred many have toward hillary, i can see a lot of independents voting republican in that instance. but if it's obama v. mccain, i think more independents will vote democrat. this alone is enough to give me pause going into the primary tomorrow.

either way, it's of utmost importance to me and has immediate effects on my life. getting a democrat in office, and achieving universal health care (with or without a mandate; despite the impossibility of a single payer system) is the only way J and I will have the opportunity to have children and start our family. And I want that possibility, damnit.

Jaelithe said...

Trust me, Rebecca, I understand the pessimism. Really I do. I worry that Obama may disappoint me. But I am pretty sure that ANY president will disappoint me.

I have very high standards ;)

And I totally get you on the health insurance thing. Like I said on your blog, I've gone without it, too. And it sucks. In fact, being I'm an independent contractor, the only reason I have it NOW is because I have it through my husband. I don't think that's fair.

R said...

see, you're totally lucky. you fell for the right guy. . . and that's my problem. . . i totally fell in love with the wrong guy, the whole "i'm-self-employed-and-love-my-job-even-though-theres-no-health-insurance" guy. . . grrrr.

Liz said...

I was going to comment and agree with you (and I do!) but I think I'll just say ditto to what Rebecca said ;)

Jaelithe said...

About Obama, or our husbands? ;)

My husband is awesome with or without the insurance, I must say.

Jaelithe said...

Oh by the by, I forgot to say, Rebecca, that I have heard Obama verbally provide policy details during various interviews, but the press barely covers it when he does. He speaks in very general terms at his rallies, but if someone asks him a specific policy question during an interview, he usually has a good answer.

Anonymous said...

You're completely right. Obama has the power to inspire, and he does.

I went to his rally at the EJ Dome on Saturday, and was amazed by the sheer mass of people who were willing to stand for three hours just to hear him speak (you couldn't even see him from where I was standing). It really made me think about who would best lead the country- a divider, or a uniter?

Jaelithe said...

I was there too, Becca. Everyone in the crowd was so patient and polite. It was impressive.

Anonymous said...

This is the most beautiful post I have read thus far, about Barack Obama and his powerful words. You've given me some clarity. Thank you!

Girl con Queso said...

This is the best post I've read on this topic. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be another skeptic, but I just don't feel he's got the depth of experience to back up the words. Maybe in eight years, but not yet. Hillary brings a lot more to the table... though honestly, I was an Edwards woman ~ I believe he got short shrift because the media ignored him simply because he didn't have a "gimmick" they could jump on ~ being black or being a woman. And I don't mean that in a bad way, that Hillary and Barack are ONLY gimmicks, but I think that their historical importance ~ their labels completely overshadowed real discourse, exploration and investigation in the early months. I'm still sad that he's gone ~ unless something happens at the convention, which would not be unheard-of ~ but I have to support Hillary in the meantime simply because she really knows her stuff ~ she's been through that meat-grinder before and survived ~ she's got the chops. President is not a job for an "intern" or for on-the-job training. ~ Jan

SUEB0B said...

Jan- I don't understand how living in the White House equates to experience. If I want to take an airplane to Chicago, the pilot's spouse is NOT an acceptable substitute for the pilot. Hillary barely has more political experience than Barack, since I only count her one elected post. I have no idea where she gets this "35 years" stuff.