Friday, September 21, 2012

Reason #257: Hope - No, Really

"...if you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible, well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void (...) Only you can make sure that doesn't happen. Only you have the power to move us forward."
The above passage from President Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention definitely contains a healthy dose of pablum--"be the change you wish to see in the world" and all that--but it was also one of the very, very few times I've caught even a hint of the feeling that Obama was actually speaking directly to me, and to my own worldview.

An incumbent's message, by nature, has to be one of pragmatism. It has to be results-oriented rather than aspirational, because otherwise it's like he's pretending he doesn't have the job already. But even to a hard-bitten cynic like myself, who started this year all but certain I wasn't going to bother voting for Obama again, this particular vein of pragmatism strikes a chord with me--not because it's stirring, but because, ultimately, it's correct.

Compared to most people (certainly many of the politically-minded), I give western society a great deal of credit in the area of self-correction. Once you have something that at least approaches a genuine democracy, I think the people's ability to govern themselves kicks in at what could be considered, in the arc of history, warp speed. This works very nicely as a personal philosophy, but it makes it hard for me to get too invested in certain issues, because they take on an air of inevitability.

Gay marriage is a great example. I'm absolutely convinced that it will eventually happen everywhere, the same way abolition eventually led to integration--civil rights are like a snowball rolling downhill, and short of a dictator stepping in, that snowball doesn't roll backwards. But what Obama was getting at is that a component of that inevitability comes from the fact that a certain segment of the population will fight for these things tooth-and-nail. So even if it's hard for some of us to muster up our own indignation, the reality is that wanting something badly enough is a bigger component of making it happen than we tend to realize. Obama is, was only ever, a tangible expression of that desire, and the more people stop believing in him, the less power he has.

The right's core argument against Obama has always been that he's a fallible human being like the rest of us; that his presidency is nothing but an empty vessel for other people's hope. There's a lot of truth to that. But, more often than you might think? Hope is enough.

Further Reading

Transcript: President Obama's Convention Speech

Timeline of African-American Civil Rights Movement

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