Thursday, August 28, 2008

An American President, finally

In the 1995 film "The American President," penned by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner, the fictitious president Andrew Shepard fulfilled many Democrats' fantasy, standing up and fighting back, defending the values so many of us hold with devastatingly simple and clear logic.

We watched in pain in 2000 and 2004 as Al Gore and John Kerry tried to squish themselves into portraits unbefitting their true character. We watched in frustration as those elections slipped away, in part due very likely to voting issues, but in part due to their failure to ignite the public's imagination, to give people something to vote for, rather than simply being the person you weren't voting against.

But tonight, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I have a Dream" speech, we finally got a real-life equivalent of President Shepard. With words that reached deep into our hopes and dreams for our country, Barack Obama accepted the nomination, introduced himself to America, and placed McCain's support of George Bush's failed policies in the clearest possible terms for the viewing audience:
Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?
Sorkin's character, responding to attacks from his opponent Bob Rumson, had said:
Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it!
Tonight, Obama made a similarly direct assessment:
It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.
Is Obama imitating Sorkin? Hardly. Obama is simply the embodiment of what Sorkin envisioned. In fact, Obama has perhaps a clearer sense of who he is, and what he has to offer, than any Democratic candidate since Bill Clinton. Clinton always knew his strengths, and how to play to them. Obama has, with his amazing upset of the nearly ordained Hillary Clinton in the primaries, staked out new terroritory for Democrats. He is already changing the country, showing us that you can fight hard without fighting nasty, that you can be lofty and principled and still draw contrasts with your opponent in stark relief. You can attack someone's principles without attacking their person. And you can move the debate to where you want it to be.

Obama took direct aim at the false dichotomies the right makes so much fodder over. For example, on the issue of abortion, Obama said that while we will have strong differences, there's every reason for us all to work together to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Obama also drew the real distinction between the parties in the starkest of terms. The Republican party believes "you're on your own." The Democratic party believes, "we're all in this together."

And that's why I'm a Democrat. I think we are better than animals. I think we should not live by an ethic that amounts to survival of the fittest. While I don't go to church any more, I will always treasure the sentiment that God will judge us by the way we treat the least among us. If ever there was a God worth worshipping, it would be one with that ethic. I couldn't worship a God who said follow me or you'll go to hell. No God so unloving seemed worthy of worship. But one that said, whatever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me – that's a God I could believe in. That's an ethic I can believe in. That's the party I can believe in, one that supports such a notion.

And that is ultimately why I support Obama. He gets it. Even science shows us, in the most remarkable of ways, that whatever happens to one happens to all. Our fates are entangled. We are, or should be, our brother's keeper. That's what separates us from animals. We are not just out to survive. We want to thrive, and overcome our difficulties together.

It's never about who wins. It's about how many of us win, together. That, to me, is at the heart of what I love about America. Our forefathers built a system that was designed to give as close to an even break for all as was possible at that point in time.

That's why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan feel personally painful to me. We're losing, together; dying, together. There have to be other ways. My gosh, it's the 21st century. Will we ever grow up and learn to talk to each other and negotiate with each other, rather than resorting to the evolutionary backslide of war?

Perhaps with Obama as our new teacher in chief, we'll learn to play a new game, together. That is my fondest hope, and a dream I'll work hard to make into a reality.

I'll leave you with the very essence of all that Obama believes and stands for, as he's proven his whole life:
What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's about you. ... You have shown what history teaches us ... that change doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.
That is why I write. And fight. We need massive change in this country. And it's up to us. We require only an articulate and intelligent leader to point us in the right direction. And the man pointing the way at this defining moment is that skinny kid with the funny name, Barack Obama.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa,

Sorry, respectfully I do not share your positive visions of Barack Obama. I'm going with Cynthia McKinney, trying to obtain at least 5% of the vote. The Democrats lost my loyality after the 2000 elections. I went w/ Peltier in 2004, I couldn't stomach voting for Kerry.

Also, I'm supporting Cindy Sheehan for congress (in ways that I can, I'm not in her district). Nancy Pelosi needs to start looking for a new job.


9:40 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Sure you are. And it will be a pointless effort.

There are only two choices in this election. Choosing any third option only means you are pulling votes from the better of the only two candidates with a choice.

I'm sorry you cannot appreciate the dire circumstances we live in, because I'm confident if you did, you would not waste your vote where it cannot possibly help in the short or long term.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Dawn Meredith said...

Yes We Can!

I was also in tears during most of the speeches.

This was a week to dare to hope.


7:33 AM  

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