I told myself I wouldn’t be political again for a while, but there’s a crazy energy in the air on the eve of Super Tuesday, what with Obama’s recent surge in polling and will.i.am’s tune making the rounds. (My own musical contribution to the effort hasn’t received quite as many hits of yet, but hey, we all do what we can…)
I was again impressed with Hillary’s performance in the L.A. debate last Thursday, and constantly pinch myself with questions about the viability of “change” and “hope” in a pragmatic political forum. But it only took a few minutes of watching Carville & Matalin to remember the sickening irrelevancy of partisanship. If it’s naivetÃ©, then hell, bring on naive governance!
The next morning, Obama was scheduled to appear before an overflow crowd at the opera house in Lebanon. When he walked onto the stage, which was framed by giant vertical banners proclaiming â€œHOPE,â€ his liquid stride and handshake-hugs suggested a man completely at ease.
â€œI decided to run because of you,â€ he told the crowd. â€œIâ€™m betting on you. I think the American people are honest and generous and less divided than our politics suggests.â€ He mocked the response to his campaign from â€œWashington,â€ which everyone in the room understood to be Clinton, who had warned in the debate two nights before against â€œfalse hopesâ€: â€œNo, no, no! You canâ€™t do that, youâ€™re not allowed. Obama may be inspiring to you, but hereâ€™s the problemâ€”Obama has not been in Washington enough. He needs to be stewed and seasoned a little more, we need to boil the hope out of him until he sounds like usâ€”then he will be ready.â€
The opera house exploded in laughter. â€œWe love you,â€ a woman shouted.
â€œI love you back,â€ he said, feeding off the adoration that he had summoned without breaking a sweat. â€œThis change thing is catching on, because everybodyâ€™s talking about change. â€˜Iâ€™m for change.â€™ â€˜Put me down for change.â€™ â€˜Iâ€™m a change person, too.â€™ â€
It was the day before the primary, and Obama began to improvise a theme, almost too much in the manner of Martin Luther King: â€œIn one dayâ€™s time.â€ It carried him through health care, schools, executive salaries, Iraqâ€”everything that Clinton had invoked, except that this was music. Then came the peroration: â€œIf you know who you are, who youâ€™re fighting for, what your values are, you can afford to reach out to people across the aisle. If you start off with an agreeable manner, you might be able to pick off a few folks, recruit some independents into the fold, recruit even some Republicans into the fold. If youâ€™ve got the votes, you will beat them and do it with a smile on your face.â€ It was a summons to reasonableness, yet Obama made it sound thrilling. â€œFalse hopes? Thereâ€™s no such thing. This country was built on hope,â€ he cried. â€œWe donâ€™t need leaders to tell us what we canâ€™t doâ€”we need leaders to inspire us. Some are thinking about our constraints, and others are thinking about limitless possibility.â€ At times, Obama almost seems to be trying to escape history, presenting himself as the conduit through which peopleâ€™s yearnings for national transformation can be realized.
Obama spoke for only twenty-five minutes and took no questions; he had figured out how to leave an audience at the peak of its emotion, craving more. As he was ending, I walked outside and found five hundred people standing on the sidewalk and the front steps of the opera house, listening to his last words in silence, as if news of victory in the Pacific were coming over the loudspeakers. Within minutes, I couldnâ€™t recall a single thing that he had said, and the speech dissolved into pure feeling, which stayed with me for days.
I know the passage above isn’t really an endorsement. But if people could care, if a smidgen of the rampant apathy was converted to productive involvement by speeches like the above, I believe the caring would be about actually getting things done and slowly fixing problems, instead of further entrenching the divisive notions of winning and losing. This isn’t a game.
So let Mary & James go share a coke while the people get back into the role of self-governance.
How’s that for naivetÃ©?!