Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama, My Candidate

Barack Obama is just eight years older than me. He is of my generation - the generation that missed the sixties, the generation that grew up under the specter of the Cold War and Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He is my candidate, the first candidate with whom I could truly emphasize.

I loved his speech tonight, but two parts in particular jumped out at me. He built a strong case for the power of government - yes, the federal government itself. The big bad bureaucracy. Like me, Obama believes that government is not only necessary, but is in fact the proper mechanism to tackle society's problems. Like me, he believes that government at its best works on our behalf and in line with our best instincts.
What is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.

He also recognizes that not everybody believes him. He spoke directly tonight to the people who have given up on politics, on government, and maybe they've even given up on him. And he pointed out how that apathy was far from benign - that ignoring politics would merely let the bastards keep doing what they've been doing. Obama as just another politicians, in an effort to get them to sit out the election. He called on the sideline-sitters and the cynics to stand up and get involved.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer, and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values.

And that's to be expected, because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

And you know what? It's worked before, because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping and settle for what you already know. I get it.

He does get it.

Tonight confirmed everything I was hoping about Obama. He's not just resting on his laurels and his 80,000-strong rockstar receptions. He's ready to fight for this election, ready to fight McCain toe to toe and call him out on every lie and deception. He can deliver the soaring rhetoric and take roundhouse swings at McCain at the same time.

More reassuring to me was hearing that Obama believes what I believe about government. I won't agree with him on every decision, but I'm relieved to hear that he has the same understanding that I do of the role of government. Our finest presidents - Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson - have used the power of the federal government to attack the deepest problems of society. Obama's not running from the legacy of the "New Deal" Democratic party - he's proud to be a member of that party. And I'm proud to be a part of his party.

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