Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

Leading, following, getting out of the way.


I have spent the past couple of days reading and rereading the speech with the sort of effort and critical eye that I used to utilize for Comparative Lit assignments.

There is a lot of cross-talk right now from bombastic progressives and nervous conservatives about the tenor of the Obama presidency to come. There are media personalities and ordinary citizens and good God Almighty they’re still talking to Joe The Been Too Busy These Days Being A Fame-Seeking Whore To Fix Anybody’s Plumbing. These people are still in combat mode, angrily talking about “ruling” from the center, about making sure the precious Fairness Doctrine is in place so Rush Limbaugh can continue to feign respectability while poking fun at autistic kids and Parkinson’s sufferers. They will explain to you and me how Obama must govern, how the choice of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff is or is not a good one, they will be there to help you navigate the complexities of your revolution.

But for as poignant, passionate, and well-constructed as the speech was, this is the section that tells me more about the next four years than any of the so-called experts have done so far:

…There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can’t solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other…

…In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

Let’s remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity…

We have been promised, in the past, and to varying follow-through, that the incoming president would change the nature and definition of American politics; what I read here in Obama’s words is a desire to redefine American leadership.

I read into his words the soul of an educator, not a governor. I believe that he views his task and his obligation to the American people is to prepare them to seize the potential of their own brighter tomorrow. He speaks of self-reliance, but also of community, and of the strength to be found not only when we help each other but when we ask for help from each other. He views government as a way to keep people upright but not a way to push them forward. He will build the doors but wants us to be confident enough in ourselves to open them.

I think he will make compassion and intelligence mean something again. I think he will be the sort of leader who doesn’t bark demands at you but who you try harder to impress anyway. He tells you that he believes in America and in Americans and you want to do what you can to be worthy of that faith. He is aware that his influence is on a clock, and that after four years he may be ousted from the seat, and that in this brief period of time he has to make a case to the bitterly divided electorate that the path to a greater nation lies in our rejection of the philosophy of constant conflict.

Like King before him, he has a vision of an America capable of rising past its own worst impulses, and like King he is aware that he may not get there with us. When he leaves us, however he leaves us, he intends to leave us with the tools and knowledge to do what must be done even if he is not leading the charge.

Throughout the campaign, Obama’s detractors often derided his messages of Hope and Change as empty platitudes, as words that made one feel good but served no practical purpose. These people are wrong and maybe someday they will be mature enough to admit it. Hope and Change are meaningless to these people only because they have decided that it will be meaningless to them.

A good leader will do for you what needs to be done to thrive. A great leader shows you how to do this for yourself and then inspires you to actually do it. A great teacher does that.

I study the speech the way I study for college finals because any of it could be on the test.

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2008 by in Education, History, Politics, Society.
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