Like most of us outside the state of Illinois, I was introduced to Obama by his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. In what turned out to be the highlight of that election cycle, he gave a speech so great that it outshone the nominee himself. What was that guy’s name?
I spent the next four years wondering why that dude who gave the speech wasn’t the one running our country. Certainly someone capable of introspection and abstract thought would be better than the current resident of the White House, a groundhog scurrying about in a man’s clothes. When Katrina and then Rita tore through Louisiana and Mississippi, our supposed leader holed up in his Texas ranch while Harry Connick Jr. demanded help for his fellow citizens. Why a singer became a better leader than our president remains a mystery. If you’re a person who believes things happen for a reason, maybe you’d think that it took two hurricanes to wake up half the nation from our national nightmare.
As the 2008 election year grew closer, it seemed that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic candidate for president. This filled me with sadness. Sad because it would really be wonderful to see a woman President – just not that woman. It would be like your parents giving you booger-flavored ice cream.
-Yay, ice cream!
-Wait, what is this? I’m not hungry anymore.
She has obviously been preparing her resume for years. Running for Congress in New York, joining the Senate Armed Services Committee. Yeah, she wants everyone to have healthcare. But booger-flavored ice cream with strawberries really doesn’t make it more appealing. (Let’s see how far I can take this metaphor, shall we?)
The great thing about Barack Obama is he hasn’t become part of the institution yet. He’s still young, smart, and has plenty of political mistakes to make. Sometimes he’ll say something that I’ll agree with wholeheartedly and get blasted by the media for saying it. I’m not sure when speaking your mind and stating the obvious became unwise for politicians. Maybe it’s always been that way. In any case, Obama has not yet become that stone wall where information cannot pass freely. What he says, he means, and what he says, he says eloquently and with passion.
Obama’s speeches are one of his greatest strengths. Unlike the mole-man currently squatting in the White House, Obama can elicit change with his words. You’d think that a man giving speeches for at least eight years would get better at it. The current President proves that public speaking is a talent as well as a skill. After the 2004 Democratic Convention speech, my other favorite Obama speech was the one he gave soon after he was attacked for belonging to a church whose reverend was a weirdo. Known as the Race Speech, Obama answered many of the unasked questions of an African American running for President. More importantly, he addressed a wound that we as a country have yet to fully comprehend, let alone heal. As a white guy, it is hard to adequately discuss the deep divide we still have in this country. One of the best things I can do is listen. We must consider is the amazing diversity of this country: not just black and white but Latino and Asian and just about every other region in the world. Obama’s family background speaks to the way America really is. When Kennedy got elected as the first Roman Catholic president, it was a big deal. Forty years later, we need to keep making steps toward progress, toward understanding.
In the coming months a lot will be said and not much understood. The wrong details will be analyzed to death, words taken out of context and misinterpreted. A cloud of confusion will cover the nation. Keep your wits about you, dear readers. Try not to throw your shoe at the TV. On November 4th the cloud will lift.
We need to remember that we are electing a leader, a representative for us all. We are also electing, in my opinion, a person who we strive to be: the best of ourselves. Obama is just a man, with failings of his own, but he is more than a politician. He is heroic because of his humanity and because he has the capability to show us where we can go.
May our leaders make us leaders.