Friday, March 21, 2008

A more perfect union

Change is difficult and even excruciating, he was saying, but the sine qua non of self-improvement is moving beyond fatuous news cycles that inflate the significance of whether he was in the pew when the Rev Wright raged away; and deflate the importance of confronting the inter-racial suspicion that underscores both Wright's anger and Obama's grandmother's fear, and thus perpetuates the evils of ignorance, poverty and segregation.

Barack Obama talked to Americans on Tuesday, as I said, as if they were adults. He did unto them, to adapt a closing line from a speech the commentator Andrew Sullivan called deeply Christian, as he would have them do unto him. Whether Americans have the capacity to respond as adults, or whether they cling to the comforting blanket of sideshows like the ranting Rev Wright, will go as far as anything towards deciding the Presidency.

Matthew Norman in the Independent

Now watch the video - over 2.5 million views since Tuesday, the most popular video on Youtube - is a political speech. I cannot say how much it means to me to see this: a politician who speaks hopefully, truthfully, inspiringly, who people are excited about. The mere idea of being political or trying to get involved in politics has been so tainted, so spoiled by cynicism, apathy, frustration, resentment these last years that it is actually shocking to see this man, in the running to be one of the most powerful men in the world opening his mouth and talking like this.

I remember the last time I felt such hope, that surging sense of possibility, that change could come.

It was at That March, that million-plus-march five years ago, when I saw the sound and size and fury of so many people, so many different people standing against the war, shuffling for peace on a raw early spring day. Grandmothers, students, children, parents pushing prams, old men in military medals, nuns and priests, imams, rabbis, people veiled and bearded and turbanned and dreadlocked and hair-gelled and pink-cheeked and brown-eyed and shivering, stamping, drumming, whistling, trudging, passing about hip-flasks, hoping, hoping, that we would step back from a bloody and brutal and morally compromised war. At that march I saw political engagement of a kind I had never seen before, the sheer thundering jawdropping numbers - I had been to many marches before, several in the months running up to the war - but that one was special. It was intoxicating, how could they not pause, and look at this righteous anger of voters, and tremble?

But they took no notice, because of course we were far too late. We should have stormed the streets a year before, when Bush told Blair of his plans as they strode around in too-tight blue jeans at the President's ranch.

And it wilted, it soured, that hopeful, angry, passionate can-do, might-work re-ignited politics of the street shufflers: if they can ignore that many of us, people said, then what is the point?

Well, there is a point. But you have to believe that change is possible.
Which is why Obama is important.



Blogger fh said...

Wow. From lamb stew through the survivors' group campaign to, now, The Speech. Quite a week.

I'm interested in your reaction to the speech. You and, at a guess, most of your readers share few of Obama's experiences, or those of the average American voter for that matter. We here in the UK are not accustomed to our politicians being extravagant church-goers, as Obama clearly is, and we do not share his feelings about that "most segregated" hour every Sunday morning. My Sunday mornings are generally dedicated to sleep and, more often than I like admitting, a slight hangover.

And did resonate. I'm not sure why. I suspect that, religiosity aside, it was an intelligent speech. It anticipated knowledge in its listeners which most politicians dare not assume.

You've done speeches. (I've written many.) Would you agree that the usual objective is to appeal to the stupidest and least-informed? And that Obama's twist on this was to go in the opposite direction? The highest common denominator?

Anyway, I used your stew recipe. It was great. Thanks. :)

March 22, 2008 12:20 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

t has been a very busy week. I'm just about to start writing up a long interview I did with a man who spent several months remanded in Belmarsh on terrorism charges - later all dropped. His brother, formerly Abu Hamza's bodyguard pleaded guilty and is now in jail.

As to the speeches, I do pitch what I say at the audience, but not 'to appeal to the stupidest and least-informed' - rather I try to think of things that will resonate with the most people in the room. So the speech I give to a group of surgeons is different to a group of sixth formers, for example. I try to imagine myself in the audience, and to work out what my interests, experiences, needs from the speech would be and deliver that as best I can. The language I use, the subjects I choose, I try to stay as close to the audience as possible.

Obama's speech was notable because it came over as honest - personal, rational, hopeful and with soaring cadences that gave it wings. He talked up to his audience, not down. He didn't pander to comfortable prejudices, he challenged them. I think politicians often think people want to be reassured, rather than stretched. They forget people's desire to grow, as well as be securely rooted.

Glad you liked the stew!

March 22, 2008 9:39 am  
Blogger DAVE BONES said...

ha ha your an Obama girl too

March 28, 2008 7:33 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

From Verisimo, as comments not working, via email

thought you might like to hear a Yank's opinion of Obama's race speech. I was moved by the eloquence, of course, but also the courageous willingness to meet this complicated issue with honesty, and hope for the future. Race in America is one of our most tangled issues: we are a people of other cultures, and yet find the energy to denegrate and marginalize what ever culture most threatens the status quo at the same time. I suppose you could say that this is a natural human reaction to a threat of your own piece of the pie. At times in our history it has been Irish, Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans, and then the freed slaves, and currently, the Hispanic culture. America is not easy.

African-Americans have legitimate reasons for anger at being kept "under-foot" and that does spill into vitriol, especially when they feel free to speak "in private." As I write this, I am trying to be very careful with my word choice, as to not sound racist which I am anything but. But as you can see from the brou-ha-ha this past week, almost anything can be construed as racist when attempting to discuss openly and honestly this subject.

I was born in very white middle America and am what they call caucasian on all the forms. Now I live in New York City in an immigrant neighborhood, and while I do not suffer open harrasment as you do, I do feel the fear my prescence can cause from my Domenican fellow-dwellers. The switch from English to Spanish in my presence occurs several times daily, and I know that I make them uneasy. Little do they know that I am pretty fluent in Spanish, so it makes little difference. At the same time, having made overtures to the local businesses in Spanish has made me a welcome member of the 'hood to some.

Barack Obama is the first polititian I have seen in my 30 some odd years here in America that I feel has the humility and intelligence to actually advance and not polarize the "race issue" in America.

It pains me that over the last administration our standing in the world's esteem has fallen so far. I love America, but have never been so ashamed of it as in the past 8 years.

I do not know if Obama will win the Presidency, nor am I sure that if he does he will be savvy enough to accomplish real change and restoration of our international policies and image, but...

I hope, I hope.

Thank you for paying attention to our political process. It reminds me that this is not just a National election, the fate of international policy also is at stake. Hopefully we will be allowed to move past the media parsing of percieved slights and allow the candidates to speak to broader issues such as Iraq and International financial policy.


April 03, 2008 4:31 pm  

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