Tuesday, June 03, 2008

fait accompli....Obama gets it

This is a very satisfying moment, made all the more so by the long and tortuous primary campaign we've all just finished witnessing. Unlike a lot of people, I'm not terribly anxious about or even interested in watching Hillary and waiting for her to finally exhale. She seems wound about as tight as a human can be....grace notes don't come easily to her. I hope she'll follow through on her pledge to deliver her supporters, but her speech tonight seemed pretty conflicted on that front.
Obama by contrast was gracious and generous to both Hillary and McCain tonight, but he also served notice that he'll be nobody's punching bag. Here's a link to his speech.

Obama has developed a more visible relish for public debate over the past many months. It seems to me now that he can hardly wait to get into ring with McCain. He also showed himself to be a very shrewd campaigner in his pledge not to use religion as a wedge or patriotism as a bludgeon in the upcoming general election campaign.

What some of my more purist progressive friends seem to undervalue is the practical value of being able to seize the moral high ground in the public mind. They seem overly and narrowly focused, in my opinion, on specific policy positions having to do with specific issues like health care or climate change; at the same time they often seem tone deaf to the cultural conditions which both make change possible and which make change agents electable. Obama may not personally articulate the progressive positions that some of my friends advocate, but they are missing the forest for the trees.

Obama is uniquely poised to be an agent of change. Someone who can mobilize the electorate and unleash on our political landscape new and as yet unpredictable political dynamics. Complaining about how pure his progressive credentials are, how ready he is to compromise, how much of a centrist he may truly be...these are complaints that progressives should weigh against Obama's pledge to make our politics more transparent and therefore more accountable to us...as long as we are vigilant and diligent in our capacity as citizens.

As a Republican, I'm not voting for Obama because I share his progressive vision (such as it may be). I'm voting for him because I sense in him a commitment to building a new kind of American electoral ethos, one closer in spirit to community activism than to legislative or judicial fiat. I'm willing to bet on concerned citizens making good choices especially when and if they are served by politicians whose chief aim is to properly educate them as to what those choices are and what consequences and costs they entail.

I sense in Obama a similar willingness to allow debate to follow its course, to allow ideas to be freely represented and to see how well they fare with an energized and well informed electorate. This is where some progressives and I really fundamentally disagree. Some of them seem to be convinced that they already possess the solutions, the right policies, and that all they need is the authority to implement them. I tend to view this as a paternalistic point of view. Let people judge, but first give them access to information and to government itself. That is a long and rather messy process, but it is also one that dignifies the role of citizen activist. Who exemplifies this vision better than Obama? Who can you name who has a better chance of being an agent for change on the national stage?

Not being a progressive myself, I'll leave it to one of the heroes of the progressive movement, Grace Lee Boggs, to tell you why Obama is the one.

Viewing society as a laundry list of problems, liberals promise solutions. Radicals, having concluded that another world is necessary, begin to lose hope that another world is possible when only a few people show up for their meetings.

Obama does not promise solutions. He doesn’t view people as masses. Out of his experiences as a community organizer and his dialectical/historical appreciation of movement building in the U.S., he is asking us to become active citizens, builders of a new America that all of us will be proud to call our own.
know hope,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having only been old enough to vote in the last 3 elections, I'm new to this thing called Hope. It feels good! I agree with you, that Obama's committments are at least as important as his actual platform positions. Now, if Richardson gets the nod for running mate... -Erin

3:42 PM  

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