And the second thing people would ask me was, "You seem like a nice young man.
You teach law school, you're a civil rights attorney, you organize voter registration, you're a family man - why would you wanna go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"
And I understood the question because it revealed the cynicism people feel about public life today. That even though we may get involved out of civic obligation every few years, we don't always have confidence that government can make a difference in our lives.
I have to admit folks; he's got me there. Because I don't think I would ever run for political office precisely because it is something dirty and nasty. I don't have a good opinion of politicians overall. Once in a blue moon someone like Mr. Obama may come along and make me think, but even then I keep a wary eye. The thing that also attracted my attention to this speech is that it was graceful. Not once did he call names regarding his adversaries or say anything disparaging like so many politicians on both sides often seem to do. When addressing the shortcomings of the current administration, he states that the problem is not that conservatism and Republicans have failed, but that their system has worked too well. He does so without actually insulting anyone but striving to bring people together:
Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the free market. But it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, of mutual responsibility. The idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity.
Americans know this. We know that government can't solve all our problems - and we don't want it to.
But we also know that there are some things we can't do on our own. We know that there are some things we do better together.
We know that we've been called in churches and mosques, synagogues and Sunday schools to love our neighbors as ourselves; to be our brother's keeper; to be our sister's keeper. That we have individual responsibility, but we also have collective responsibility to each other.
That's what America is.
And that is what disturbs me. That the nation as a whole seems to have forgotten that we should have regard for others as well. That in the end, whether wealthy or poor, we all get ahead together. That a society is measured by the compassion it shows to the least of its members. Then again, I try to have faith, but at such moments I get to see another story like this one. The Black voter in that story is more worried about abortion and gays than whether she can get things like affordable health care or education, and she is a mother. The story comes from the Stories in America blog. Here are some parts of the interview (the bold text is the interviewer):
The Republicans are often criticized for using gay marriage and abortion to get you to vote for them. Meantime, they refuse to raise minimum wage or work to make healthcare more affordable and accessible.Which is fine, she should be able to vote for who she wants, but to simply ignore the question on wages and health care, given she has two children of her own (she defines herself as an entrepreneur), makes one wonder. And the most disturbing answer:
I don't vote according to party. I vote according to each individual issue. I don't care if they don't give me healthcare. I'll never support abortion. I have two children and in the past, I've had an abortion and I've asked for forgiveness for that. I don't think that should be ok for a 17-year-old.
So gay marriage and abortion are your top issues and Republican policies on the economy and the poor don't matter?
I've lived in this community all my life under Democrats and Republicans. My neighbors have been living in poverty for years and nothing ever changes.
It seems Mr. Obama and the few who want something better for this country have their work cut out for them. Maybe it is time to tell a new story, a new narrative that shows us that things can change. Why do we have to accept that people will live in poverty for years? And what can we do to help our fellow man change that situation, and in the process, get all of us ahead? Maybe it starts when we can get a voter like that to see past the smokescreens of divisive issues to what may be serious. No one says she has to abandon her values. But it is time to look at a bigger picture, and maybe, just maybe, we can do it one person at a time. Mr. Obama, towards the end of his speech, looks back at Ms. Lewis, the 105 year old lady, and asks,
And I've wondered - if she is lucky enough to live as long as 105-year-old Marguerite Lewis, if she someday has the chance to look back across the twenty-first century, what will she see? Will she see a country that is freer and kinder, more tolerant and more just than the one she grew up in? Will she see greater opportunities for every citizen of this country? Will all her childhood hopes be fulfilled?
What will would we see if we could look back in time years from now? How will we answer such questions? I would like to think we would eventually find a more tolerant, freer, kinder place, but will we?