Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Man of Thought and Action

Though I have in the past, and probably will again in the future, wax on about Senator Obama's brilliant use of language, I believe that it is worth re-visiting today. Take, for example, President-Elect Obama's victory speech from Tuesday night. Though he didn't say anything remarkably different from his campaign speeches, his poetic use of Ann Nixon Cooper's life story brought me to tears more than once in his "We Didn't Start The Fire"-esque retracing the 20th century:

"She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

"And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that
American creed: Yes we can.

"At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

"When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

"When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

"She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that 'We Shall Overcome.' Yes we can.

"A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

"America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made? This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment."

I don't care what your political views are, that beautiful speech should have made you proud and weepy if you weren't already. And while some people have argued that "you campaign with poetry, but you govern with prose," the poetry doesn't hurt one bit. [2]

You can bet your ass that I'm not the only one who feels that way, either. Though much attention was focused on Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Obama earlier this year, I believe it was equally noteworthy that one of the greatest American writers of our time, Toni Morrison, a friend of the Clintons, endorsed Obama, as well, writing, "In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom." [4] There has been little conversation of wisdom in politics over the last eight years as America played a harrowing game of chicken with the world entitled, "You're Either With Us Or Against Us."

In fact, if anything, the attributes that add up to wisdom (intelligence, education, and compassion) have been dismissed as unnecessary. We all know that Obama has often been labeled as an academic and elitist; Karl Rove famously tried to play up this perception of Obama months ago, saying, "He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by." [5] My question, however, is this: when did intelligence, education, and culture become a bad thing? In an age overrun with Bushisms, I wonder when it became a bad thing to respect the leader of the Free World.

Others have felt the same way over the past eight years. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated, says, "Until now, my identity as a writer has never overlapped with my identity as an American — in the past eight years, my writing has often felt like an antidote or correction to my Americanism."[3] It is undeniable that ours has been a culture that has stifled creativity and free thought, the threats of the No Fly List and Government Wiretapping Program lurking if anyone should get too radical in his or her thought. Author Rick Moody argues, "'But I think the larger issue is cultural. There's a trickle down from the top in the way art exists inside and outside of the culture as a whole. Here in the USA, you could feel in the Bush years how little regard there was for it. People who disliked art, literature, dance, fine arts, they had a lot of cover for this antipathy.'" [3]

In our President-Elect, however, we find a man who embraces culture--a writer, a reader, and a thinker. The much-debated photograph of President-Elect Obama (am I the only one who loves saying that?) carrying a book called The Post-American World (see right) gives me hope. [6] This is not a man who takes the path before him at the expense of acknowledng all other paths. Instead, I see a man who is thoughtful, who is in touch not only with the working class but with the thinking class as well. I see a man who I am not afraid to follow, because I know that he will pick the best path available instead of picking the one he is already on.

Works Cited:

[1] "Transcript: 'This is your victory,' says Obama." CNNPolitics. com.

[2] "HRC on the Offensive." Huffington Post. 6 January 2008.

[3] Italie, Hillel. "Writers welcome a literary president-elect." AP. 6 November 2008.

[4] "Toni Morrison's Letter to Barack Obama." The New York Observer. 28 January 2008.

[5] "Rove: Obama is that Country Club Guy." Swamp Politics. 23 June 2008.

[6] "What Does Obama Read?" Snopes. 10 October 2008.


Daniele said...

You're not the only one. I love saying it too!

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I wish I could have been in Grant Park. I was sitting at home sniffing and getting all teary-eyed. I'm actually looking forward to the future for the first time in a long, long time.

Chatty Cathy said...

I concur. He is such a great speaker and it was such a beautiful speech. I have to admit, I was so moved...I cried. Just reading this speech again in your post I got teary eyed. I am excited for the future and feel a sense of freedom that I haven't felt in 8 years. No longer is our country in a stagnant, conservative religious grasp.
p.s-thanks for the post.

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