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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Obama resonates: Three views

I'm nearly finished with Barack Obama's memoir, "Dreams From My Father." It's a lyrical book that tells the story of someone as he is wrestling the demons of identity and self-actualization long before he emerges as the confident orator we see today. Here's an excerpt I found quite moving for its honesty. It is one of many.
"That's what the leadership was teaching me, day by day: that the self-interest I was supposed to be looking for extended well beyond the immediacy of issues, that beneath the small talk and sketchy biographies and received opinions people carried within them some central explanation of themselves. Stories full of terror and wonder studded with events that still haunted or inspired them. Sacred stories.

And it was this realization, I think, that finally allowed me to share more of myself with the people I was working with, to break out of the larger isolation that I had carried with me to Chicago. I was tentative at first, afraid that my prior life would be too foreign for South Side sensibilities; that I might somehow disturb people's expectations of me. Instead, as people listened to my stories of Toot or Lolo or my mother and father, of flying kites in Djakarta or going to school dances in Punahou, they would nod their heads or shrug or laugh, wondering how someone with my background had ended up, as Mona put it, so 'country-fied,' or most puzzling to them, why anyone would willingly choose to spend a winter in Chicago when he could be sunning himself on Waikiki Beach. Then they'd offer a story to match or confound mine, a knot to bind our experiences together—a lost father, an adolescent brush with crime, a wandering heart, a moment of simple grace. As time passed, I found that these stories, taken together, had helped me bind my world together, that they gave me the sense of place and purpose I'd been looking for. Marty was right: There was always a community there if you dug deep enough. He was wrong, though, in characterizing the work. There was poetry as well—a luminous world always present beneath the surface, a world that people might offer up as a gift to me, if I only remembered to ask."
I'm compiling my list of reasons why I support Obama and will post them here in advance of the Ohio primary. But let me offer a teaser now: I like how he thinks. I admire his mind. And after eight years of Bush, I find it an absolute necessity to have a leader with a bright mind. Novelist Toni Morrison tapped into something deeper in her endorsement letter, which was posted to Obama's Web site:
"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. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom."
Finally, there was the moving op-ed penned by Caroline Kennedy, a woman not known for jumping onto the political dais. She spoke of her support of Obama both in the New York Times and yesterday at American University as "patriotic, political and personal." She also spoke as a mother of teenagers and as someone who believes so strongly in young people. Her message resonates with what I find in my own heart.

"I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility.

Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."


Cleveland Carole Cohen 3C said...

Hi Wendy, I love what you say here: I like how he thinks. I admire his mind. And after eight years of Bush, I find it an absolute necessity to have a leader with a bright mind

Couldn't agree more. Also enjoyed his book. He was very open in explaining his growth process. Not an easy feat. I admire him a lot. Thanks for posting your thoughts on it!

Wendy Hoke said...

Hi Carole,
Thanks for commenting. I agree and would make Obama's "Dreams From My Father" required reading. I keep dog-earing pages with passages to share. But there are too many. I would simply say, if you want to understand how he thinks and what he stands for, read the book.

Tomorrow (Super Tuesday) should be interesting and I'll be watching closely.