Friday, March 21, 2008

So Here's the Thing about Obama

I don't talk about politics a whole lot on my blog, probably because I have a deep-seated discomfort with having that kind of argument in public (which is probably unfortunate, since that's like the point of America). Also because I'm well-aware that you can like your neighbors a whole lot, and then they put up a sign in their yard favoring a particularly creepy state politician, and suddenly you're thinking, "WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THEM?" So I don't like to stick up yard signs on my blog that'll make half my readers go, "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH HER?"

I've been listening to the older professors in my department at ICC, Boomers and older, frequently discussing, "But who's going to vote for Obama if he wins the primary?" Many of them don't understand his appeal.

(Now, this isn't a post on who's the best candidate for president. This is a post about why Obama appeals emotionally to many voters, about what makes Obama different. It's not a facty post, it's an emotive post about why he engages people's emotions.)

I finally just got around to watching Obama's speech on race, w/r/t Jeremiah Wright. A typical politician would have pointed out (and quite rightly) that you can be a right-wing religious leader and claim things like, oh, that God's punishing America for harboring gays or legalizing abortion with 9/11 or by unleashing Katrina and Rita, and you still get invited to the White House, and nobody finds this particularly remarkable.

So here's the thing about Obama:

He didn't.

I am 30 years old. I am too young to remember a politician who has told the truth unless backed into a corner. (Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Oliver North, Larry Craig, Bob Taft, Jim McGreevey, George Ryan, Dan Rostenkowski, the entire Congressional delegation from Alaska, just off the top of my head.) Obama got up and addressed not only his pastor's words, very honestly and truthfully, but the racial issues in America, very honestly and truthfully, without resorting to sound-bite catchphrases. (And I am much too young to remember an era before political speeches were built on TV sound-bites.)

At 30 years old, I am too young to remember a politician who talked to the electorate like they had high school educations, not like they were particularly slow 3rd graders. Obama uses non-pundit-approved words like "endemic" and "demagogue" and "gaffe" (SAT words, we used to call them, before they got rid of the vocab section of the SATs). Obama made smart allusions to Scripture and the U.S.'s founding documents (and Faulkner, for that matter). Allusions he trusted the American public to understand.

I seriously find myself sometimes wanting to CRY when Obama speaks, not so much, I think, because of the content of the speeches, but because there IS content in his speeches. Because it's not the same old shit I've heard shoveled by every politician I've seen since I was born. Because he's talking TO me, not AT me, and because he doesn't talk to me like I'm a MORON. His speeches involve nuances, and I've never lived through a politics of anything but very large clubs used to beat people over the head with very simple ideas. (I realize this is not entirely fair; many politicians have nuanced policy positions, but they don't present them in speeches because they don't think the electorate is that smart.)

With Obama I constantly get the sense that he both likes and respects the American public. I am so sick of politicians who want to get elected despite thinking (or because they think) the American electorate is a bunch of useless sheep. I'm so sick of being treated with contempt by political leaders. (I'm also sick of folks who claim to hate government wanting to be the ones who run it, but that's probably a different issue.) Plenty of politicians act like they like us, but they never respect us in the morning when the voting is done.

Those of you who are Boomers or older have apparently lived through political periods like this before -- Kennedy, I'm told. I guess Ike was pretty up-front. I haven't. You have no idea how exciting it is to listen to the first politician in my lifetime who doesn't talk down to me, doesn't talk in sound-bites, doesn't act like I'm too stupid to understand political doublespeak.

Well, probably you do know how exciting that is, since you can remember it happening before. I can't. And it's damn exciting.


Donna/Doxy/LyricFox said...


You're right. It is exciting. I wasn't around for Kennedy, but I was for Reagan. Reagan gave a good speech, but what I like about Obama isn't just that he gives a pretty speech but that he WRITES those speeches. That in and of itself speaks volumes to me.

And oh yes. Being talked to. As opposed to be talked AT. And being spoken to like the speaker expects me to have a brain and know how to use it.

Very refreshing. Very exciting.

Anon E. Mouse said...

The real key to politics is sincerity. Once you learn to fake that, the rest is easy.

You are right, of course. People have been saying "he's well-spoken" without really being able to define that. He picked one hell of a subject, too, because race is so taboo.

Floyd said...

Well, shoot. Mousey beat me to it.

I love to listen to Obama speak. It does feel like there's something good in the air, some kind of change is a-comin'.

I just can't identify what might change. Us? The US? Washington?

But unfortunately, I know that things don't change with the words of one man. He's got to use his orator skills to win over 535 other people, too, if "whatever" is going to change.

Still can't figure out what that "whatever" is, though. Damn. I've gotta be missing something.

Michael Legel said...

In a bit of sideways logic I am for Obama because I so abhor the rest. I simply can NOT stomach Hillary hiding behind her corporate roots in Wal-mart's anti-worker, anti-Americanism. I can't give her ANY credit for being in the White House with Bill ... after all ... so was Monica. I detest McCain who rides a "I was an imprisoned warrior" mantra and yet hasn't the balls to denounce torture. And worse, knowing the terror of war for the soldier he jokes about war. I don't know who Obama really is, but I know who he is not and sometimes that is all the evidence we get with which to make a decision.

Mahkno said...

My P's who are from the older cohort of Boomers, certainly get Obama. They are excited for the first time since Kennedy. They see the Kennedy comparison and likeness, loud and clear.

Ramble On said...

We get it! I was in college (in fact in a history class) when the announcement came that JFK had been shot. And I cried. I watched and re-watched the killing of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Reagan could give a speech, but always seemed like an actor playing a part. The excitement and energy are back. I hope I have another opportunity to vote for Obama in November.

Anonymous said...


Jennifer said...

Great post. I'm a few years older than you and I feel exactly the same way!

Kevin Lowe said...

Very interesting post. What . . .? The SAT no longer contains a vocabulary section???

Anonymous said...

its because obama has brought JFK speechwriter, ted sorenson, out of retirement.