20 March, 2008

Passing the Torch

There are, of course, tons of responses on the web about Barack Obama's Tuesday speech on race tensions in America.

I'm sure the internets don't need another (somewhat overdue) analysis of that speech. We all know how pivotal this was for Obama's campaign - how could an eloquent soliloquy on a controversial and personal topic in response to the only thing close to a "scandal" anyone's been able to drum up about his candidacy not be a crucial and widely discussed moment? Many voices more articulate than mine have already pointed this out. So I will try not to go on about how presidential Barack sounded, or whether his picture of race is correct, or if this is a successful response to the media coverage of Rev. Wright's sermons. But I do want to say something a little different about what Barack's speech means.

What is truly important about this speech is not about Barack giving it. It's about how it has been received. The American public has actually listened to this speech. Not only did Barack speak to us "like we are adults," but for once in this country, I think we've listened like adults. When the Media continues to use sound bytes of Barack's as a lead-in to playing, yet again, Rev. Wright's bytes - just like Barack said they would - people are rolling their eyes and wondering why we're still talking about this. For once, voters are connecting with a candidate by circumventing the Media. I hope this helps the news industries re-evaluate their purpose a little bit: the Media should be the voice of the people, not their patronizing nanny.

I have been hesitant thus far to engage in the more sugary of praises for Obama or, honestly, to fully commit to his candidacy. It is hard to pretend that one President can pull this country together, heal our international reputation, or deliver significantly on the policy he/she campaigned on - no matter how much we believe they will try. One person in a sprawling government, even the commander in chief, surrounded by a history of American interests and American mistakes, just can't accomplish all this. But I do believe an engaged and angry public can.

That is why I will admit that this time Obama really does remind me of Kennedy. Not just in representing an oppressed people, or in his youth, or in his oratory skills (for those of you who have only heard the "Ask not what your country can do for you..." clips, check out the full attempt to heal a divided nation about a very different issue in Kennedy's inaugural address). He reminds me of what Kennedy represented. Kennedy's meaning, like Obama's, was only partially about his presidency and his policies. It was also about a nation being engaged, a new generation acknowledging their responsibility to take control of our country and to change it into where they wanted to live, without looking back. Obama's candidacy means that right now, we are trying to realize our own assumption of responsibility for our nation. We are ready for our political adulthood, to live in a society where we respond to politicians who speak to us like adults, to pick up a severely tarnished torch and do something about making it brighter.

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