In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Monday, November 3, 2008

In Closing, First Principles

*Note: I turned some of this post into a little radio piece you can read about and listen to here.

It's a mixed bag seeing this election finally--we hope--ending tomorrow. It's been neat to feel out my own perceptions of politics and politicians, government in general and the specific issues of import in particular. What an election cycle. I wrote my first post here on December, 3rd, 2007, and appreciate everyone who has taken a chance to read some here and there, as well as those who have offered comments and engaged with me on some critical issues.

Now that things are finally, finally coming to a close (and again, I do hope it ends by at least Wednesday AM), I wanted to offer some final thoughts. Though I may throw up a post here or there over the next few weeks or months, I am looking forward to backing away somewhat from all things political (as much as I can with the vigor that will undoubtedly surround a new president, and the related drive I will have to watch who I hope will be in there as he begins to rebuild our country).

My final thoughts are simple, and thus "first principles," as I noted in my title. One of the first principles in a society, I believe, is for the less vulnerable to help the more vulnerable. Under George W. Bush, the most vulnerable have been preyed on--with unregulated mortgage lending, a war of preemption, an economy and tax system tilted towards the wealthiest among us, and a health care system that multiplies in cost, again and again, year after year. Why??

We can certainly allow it, as we have. But are we not more than animals to fight for what we can get and call it survival of the fittest? Surely we are. But it takes gumption to change this system of greed, of self-interest, of warrior mentalities and individualism.

The reason Barack Obama won out over Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and the other Democrats, is because, in my view, he called more of us out of ourselves than did the others. If he had simply called us out of ourselves without calling us into something, that would have been the end of it. But he called us into something exponentially larger--that is, into interdependence. That's a good thing, it is. Because again, the alternative is some version of survival of the fittest, and I’m not okay with that, because we’re not all operating from an equal playing field.

Our tax code can be fair, taking into account the most vulnerable with deliberate compassion--weighed by sensible understanding of personal responsibility. And you will hear that in Obama, as he said in his 30-minute TV piece this last week, and in his stirring call in Manassas, VA tonight (available here); he's repeated the theme throughout his campaign, saying we have a "crisis in responsibility." He went on to say tonight that we have a crisis in "civility." The speech was probably the most moving I have heard him deliver. Perhaps it was due to the unimaginable timing of the death of his grandmother today (she helped raise him, as he talks about here); in fact, I imagine it is that, in combination with this, the final day of his campaign. The tenor in his voice reaches that of a leader though, even as he spoke more softly at one time or another during the speech. I finished watching it encouraged about what this man can do for our country.

Barack speaks to where we are and where we aren't. And while many of us can quickly name where we aren't, personally or as a country, he doesn't stop there--he talks about where we can be. He did that with his broad look at our country, as he ventured--or fought, perhaps I should say--his way into Republican state after Republican state.

What do we have now? An electrified country, where I can hear stories, as I did last week, of a 57-year old from Arlington, Virginia who had never voted before, but was planning to do so for Obama on Tuesday. Wow. We have a presidential candidate who dared to trek into areas like central Virginia, where no presidential candidate had gone since Nixon in '68--forty years ago; no Democrat had gone there since Abraham Lincoln's challenger, Stephen Douglas, a hundred years earlier, in 1860. This is vision--but not just vision of how to win an election, but how to mobilize people for something bigger than themselves.

You see, Obama doesn't have some delusions of grandeur, in my view, but rather simple, even modest ideas of returning the country to the many hands of our people--prodding us to get our hands dirty as we build and develop, calling us to reach down for those most vulnerable and balance out the playing field. He's brought many people along in the ways he's reasoned through how we need health care within financial reach of all Americans, bridges and roads rebuilt, alternative energies pursued and conservation championed. Everyone would be deceived, including Obama, if they thought he could do it himself. No, this is a world he has helped paint before the eyes of Americans, offering the chance to grab it if we would. And no doubt, he is standing on the shoulders of many who have come before him, echoing their calls--yet he has brought so many into the game that he stands unique among political leaders. And so the choice is ours to hope, as it were, in that more just, more communal world that he has helped so many believe is possible.


SOC said...

Your closing statement is eloquent, and I totally agree with you. Obama won because he called us to be better than we are. I received this emailon Tuesday, as you and all volunteers probably did too:"I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.
We just made history.
And I don't want you to forget how we did it.
I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.
We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next.
But I want to be very clear about one thing...
All of this happened because of you."

Obama points out in this email that people like you made this victory possible. This is why I cannot agree when you say you will now pull back from politics. We all need to stay involved, to be citizens in the fullest sense of the word. This is our country. Obama cannot pull off the change that is needed unless all of us continue to help.

Thank you for the wonderful blog you have been putting out. Keep up the great work.

Brendan O'Connor said...

Hi mom,

I definitely hear you, i probably should have more explicitly said that i wanted to pull back from this blog, to try to get back to a little more balance...i may try to put up an occasional post, but in a larger sense i definitely hear where you're coming from--citizenship is a tough thing to understand how to approach, in my view, when there's not some explicit volunteering for a campaign, for example, that can happen...

One of my hopes is that Obama will help redefine citizenship, give more mechanisms to fulfill it and direction on what it should be...

Thanks so much for the nice comments though mom, they mean so much, much love!