“I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected.”
Senator Barack Obama, speech given at the 2008 Democratic National Convention
My husband and I have a running argument about pessimism versus optimism. Realism versus idealism. He says he’s a realist. I say he’s a pessimist. I’ve told him over and over that a constantly negative viewpoint does not make you a realist. A healthy dose of BOTH practicality and hope makes you a realist. He gives me that shake of the head that says, “Aren’t you so cute. One day you’ll grow up and live in the real world.”
I’ve been getting that all my life.
I first got it as a senior in high school during a debate in English class. Our teacher posed the question of whether humans were inherently good or inherently evil. I said, as is my way, inherently good. Living in the world made us evil. The guy beside me, Eric, said we were inherently evil, and it was this natural-born evil that polluted the world. We argued back and forth for a while until he called me Pollyanna. I vowed to end the crush I had on him.
That day in Mrs. Smith’s English class has stuck with me all these years. I remembered it last week while watching the Democratic National Convention and Barack Obama’s speech. I think Senator Obama has probably dealt with his share of Erics as well, although I’m sure he made the argument for inherent goodness much better than I did. He didn’t have my annoying redneck twang lilting Southern drawl going for him, however.
I’ve always been jealous of those of you who lived through the 1940’s and 1960’s. You had leaders who were inspirational. (Yes, Daddy, I know Regan was inspirational. I was five.) Leaders who captured the world’s attention when they spoke and made the American people believe in themselves and each other. Roosevelt, Churchill, Kennedy, Kennedy, King. What do you see? A man standing before crowds of people, speaking words that still appear in quotes today. People called to action to help their fellow man, to join together for a brighter future. The desire to be a better American.
Barack Obama makes me want to be a better American.
When I hear Obama speak, I believe in myself. I believe in you, too. I am proud of my country — what it has been, what it is now and, especially, what it can be. What it will be. And I believe, fully and completely, that Barack Obama will give us the Camelot that we were promised so long ago. That we never quite reached.
You may call me naive. Too optimistic. A dreamer. As another inspirational man once said, “I’m not the only one.”
It takes courage to believe what Obama does. It takes courage to have faith and hope. To hold onto goodness and something better. Because the “realists” will tell you it can’t happen. That it won’t happen. Some will tell you that what we have now is fine. That what we’ve been given during the last eight years is the way it should be. I think this is wrong, and I shake my head.
We can have the America that Roosevelt led and the America that Jack and Bobby Kennedy wanted for us. We just need to see that we’ve asked for and expected too little. That what we’ve been given is not good enough.
It’s not good enough to be pro choice or pro life. Parents and others in the community have to provide information on birth control and teach abstinence to our teenagers. We have to bring the number of unwanted pregnancies down so that, one day, the choice will only be necessary in cases of rape, incest or mortal threat to the mother. Don’t roll your eyes. We could get there.
It’s not good enough to have stricter or more lenient gun laws. We have to allow the Midwesterner to hunt on his own land and a husband and father to protect his family. But we also have to keep handguns with the serial numbers burned off out of the hands of lost teenagers who join gangs and become criminals. Don’t laugh. We could get there.
It’s not good enough to cut taxes. Or to raise them. But there have to be taxes. The money to run our country has to come from somewhere, folks. And the national deficit is high enough. But there’s a way to effectively cut and raise taxes and turn our economy into a tight, well-oiled machine. Unfair corporate loopholes have to be closed. The middle class’ money must be freed up to spend on what the corporations are selling. Don’t look away. We could get there. Again.
Obama has told us how he’ll get us there. He’s laid it out, point by point. Yet people still roll their eyes, laugh and turn away. He’s a dreamer. An inexperienced idealist. A Pollyanna.
He’s just like me.