Obama Calls America

“I know You didn’t do this for me, you did this because you believe so deeply in the most American of ideas. That in the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it,” Barack Obama said in his victory speech in Iowa.

How many politicians get that? Only those few who can see beyond their own egos. Obama can see what’s been happening in this country. He can see and feel the pain of the rifts.

“We are one nation, we are one people,” Obama said. Nixon, Agnew, “I’m a uniter not a divider” George, none of them believed that. This guy does. And we want to believe that, again. I’m for Obama because I want to believe in this country again. He moves me. George McGovern, in the wreckage of Vietnam and Nixon, called out “Come home, America,” in 1972 accepting the Democratic nomination, and he moved me. But America kept breaking apart. Obama just might be able to bridge the divides in America. I hope so. And I like having hope. Audacious.

This is a torch-passing moment, Howard Fineman said on MSNBC. This reminds me of Bobby Kennedy, Gene Robinson said on the same network.

Obama is so emblamatic of our attempt to rejoin the world, Chris Matthews said.

Barack Obama’s victory speech was not yet historic — it was not Bobby Kennedy in Indianapolis or Martin Luther King on the Lincoln Memorial steps. But it was the start of something historic. Watch this man. He’s going to move America.

— Bruce Benidt

11 thoughts on “Obama Calls America

  1. The Rev. Jim Jones says:

    I’m for Obama because I want to believe in this country again.

    You were moved to tears over this empty suit? You stopped believing in America because … you started believing in France? Iraq? North Korea?

    Oh my God.

  2. Jim says:

    Rev. Jones:

    Senator may be many things, but an ’empty suit’ he ain’t.

    Whether we’ll be able to cash the check he’s writing is another issue, but that’s the case with any politician running for high office.

    Keep making an effort, keep looking a little deeper and I think you’ll find a message that is the foundation for a 21st century America: one that relinquishes the hubris of neo-conservative power; that re-balances the relationship between the individual, the corporation and the state; that restores the moral standing of America in the eyes of most of the rest of the world; and provides for the security of its citizens in a way that is based in reality.

  3. Bruce Benidt says:

    Rev. J, I haven’t stopped believing in America, but I’ve found my belief terribly strained by LBJ, Nixon, W, by the rifts in the Sixties and now. I’ve found my belief in America strained by how the rich and powerful have stacked the deck in their favor. And by fear-mongering — stirring up a slimy pot of fear about anybody not like us.
    But this country is resilient, its Constitution is brilliant, and every now and then comes a person who calls out for the best of us. I like the sound of that call.
    Jim — eloquent. Thanks.

  4. This election is going to be about change. Excellent post – and inspiring in and of itself to those who typically don’t pay attention until it’s time to vote.

  5. Max says:

    I hear a lot of excitement about Obama. Unfortunately, he started out with an attitude toward the military that has turned me off and I can’t listen to anything he has to say. My husband spent a year in Iraq during the start of Iraqi Freedom. We’ve lost friends, had friends injured and my husband was injured. What were those sacrifices for if we just drop everything, pull out of the country and leave them to their mess? Obama started his campaign so vehement about Iraq that it felt disrespectful of the sacrifices we’ve already made. That’s not how a commander-in-chief should speak. I have no idea what he could do to make me believe he has any respect for the military or any quality that would be appropriate as commander-in-chief. It would have to be very big and genuine to rebuild that bridge.

    I would love real change. But the first step should be to eliminate the parties. The candidates have to bow to the parties instead of being themselves and finding a way to agree with people of differing opinions. In general, Americans agree on a lot more than any politician or political party every wants to admit. If our government officials focused on our agreements and not on disagreements, they could get so much more done and the country would be better off with the positive conversation.

    Still have no idea who I’m voting for in the primary. Or in which party I can find a candidate that I want to hear more from to vote for them. Lots to vote against, but I really don’t like those votes.

  6. Max, what a brilliant comment. Finding agreement among people of differing views is a huge task and, indeed, a great attribute of a leader. Being able to bring people together is what we need — we’ve had more than enough of dividing people.

    And your comment on Obama and the military is very poignant. I’d bet if you could have a conversation with Obama, or with anyone who’s openminded while still opposing the war, you’d feel better about the position.

    I obviously don’t speak for Obama, but as someone who feels we should pull out of Iraq very quickly myself, I can tell you what I feel. The sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands who’ve served, and the tens of thousands who’ve been wounded or killed, is admirable and enormously appreciated. People who serve their country in the military do something those of us who don’t can never fully understand, and we should applaud it. We need a strong, well-trained, well-led military.

    But leaders, both civilian and military, can and do make bad decisions that do needlessly sacrifice soldiers’ lives. Criticizing those decisions doesn’t criticize the soldiers nor disrespect their service or sacrifice. Criticizing and analyzing is what we do in a democracy, seems to me.

    I demonstrated agains the Vietnam War. The soldiers who served in Vietnam did not get much respect, and were often criticized personally by those opposed to the war. That wasn’t right, in my view. When I first saw the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., I was tremendously moved. The deep rend in the ground, the black wall, the stately and graceful march of names — shows respect and honor for those who served while showing truthfully that the war had divided America. I love the honor to the troops that the Vietnam Memorial shows. We need to honor our troops, thank them, and in fact share some sacrifice with them — even while those of us who oppose how the current war was planned and executed feel it is our duty as citizens to criticize the decisionmakers and advocate for changed policy.

    Send Obama an email or a letter or show up at a rally and ask that great and penetrating question — do you have respect for the military, and what qualities qualify you to be commander in chief. Ask whether his criticism of the war isn’t disrespectful of the troops’ sacrifice. I’d love to hear what he says.

    Thanks for commenting. Bruce

  7. Dennis Lang says:

    In the “New York Review of Books” (January 17, 2008) some may find journalist Michael Massing’s essay–“As Iraqis See It”–of interest. The story is about McClatchy Newspaper’s Baghdad Bureau. Iraqi staff members posting their personal experiences and observations: “An opportunity to talk directly to the American people.” The blog address is: washingtonbureau.typepad.com/iraq. Powerful, enlightening, frightening.

  8. Jim says:

    Dear Max,

    I will respond here with the caveat that I will be thinking about the comment you’ve made for some time (it has affected me deeply) and I reserve the right to amend what I am about to write.

    What can I add to this conversation? My brother-in-law served and was sent home wounded. He is adamant (and I’ve asked him pointedly since I’ve marched against the war in D.C.) that the ‘bring the troops home’ perspective is not disrespectful of the troops – just based (in his opinion) in the reality that it is very difficult to win ‘hearts and minds’ in the current situation and that the (again, his opinion) false premises for starting this war in Iraq ‘poisons the well’ of precisely the people we need to step into the fray and take over from American forces.

    My brother-in-law is National Guard. When I asked him about why he was going given his opinion about the Bush administration and the beginning of the war, he said to me ‘I’ve been cashing their checks all this time; I’m not walking away now, when they need me.’ I can’t tell you how much I respect him for this decision (and I’m way over on the ‘impeach Bush/Chaney’ side of the political spectrum).

    The President must function in several roles – the most important of which is ‘Commander-in-Chief’ – he/she must make decisions that involve the lives and deaths of the best and brightest America has to offer. But the President must also be candid enough to admit when a policy has failed. The current president does not have a plan that will bear fruit in the Middle East. He is not willing to commit to sending the tens of thousands of additional troops nor the institution of a draft that would be required to establish American hegemony in Iraq. And I believe hegemony (uncontested power) is the current administration’s primary concern in the Middle East.

    As far Left as I am, I might be able to support the President if he ‘came clean’ and demonstrated that he has an exit plan that would 1) minimize American troop losses and 2) provide Iraq the opportunity to achieve a sovereignty that empowered each of the factions with some kind of voice in an Iraqi system.

    But I don’t believe that is what the President wants.

    And more to the point – if Senator Obama, as President, can be held to his rhetoric of change and a new politics – perhaps we can reconstruct America’s presence in the world in a way that draws a line regarding our authentic national interests (as Teddy Roosevelt) and, also, leaves room for a sharing/sacrifice of U.S. sovereignty that sends a strong message to the world that ‘there is room for us all’ on this planet.

    What can I say, I’m one who believes that there is room for both Ghandi and Machiavelli in this world.

    Sorry for the long post – I hope to read more from you here and will take careful consideration of what you have to offer.

  9. Dennis Lang says:

    Max, Bruce and Jim–Thank you for your engaging dialogue on this subject that has lost none of its intensity has it? For anyone interested, Kerri Miller on her “Midmorning” show (MPR.org) interviewed soldier/memoirist David Bellavia today. His recent book,”House to House” recalls his experience at the center of the battle of Fallugia. Very, very compelling discussion that I gather will be availble as a podcast later today. (Ghandi and Machiavelli–now that would be a spirited conversation over gin and tonics!).

  10. Bill Dewey says:

    Comments on the comments — 1) Almost every election is about change or not-change; this one will be about what direction to change towards, essentially middle or farther left than that, since where we are is so obviously unsatisfactory to so many, for so many reasons.

    2) Whenever anyone decides to do something, he or she wants to believe thatit is right. What our soldiers were sent to do in Iraq was wrong, but what they did — follow orders, fight hard, risk and sometimes sacrifice life, limb, and sanity — was right for them to do, even — especially — for all the defrauded National Guardspeople, as one of the commentators above mentioned. How many of our troops who were in Viet Nam have come back and thrown away the rest of their lives because what they were sent to do was wrong? Only now, with that lesson before us, can we hope to distinguish between the honor of valorous service and the evil of warmaking in the service of political and economic greed.

    The greatest hope that Barry Obama offers is that he seems able to condemn the warmakers and praise the soldiers at the same time. For

    “tho’ the soldier knew
    Someone had blunder’d:
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die”

    I think Obama understands this, and I think Hillary R. does not; if she did she waould not have joined the conspiracy.

  11. Max says:

    It’s not just the “cut and run” plan that Obama is promoting. I agree we need to get out of Iraq. But we need to do it thoughtfully.

    And the disrespect came from his comments about soldiers being stupid. While we were watching the news a few (maybe 6?) months ago, they showed a clip of him making joke about members of the military that they weren’t smart enough to do anything else. My husband just looked at me and said, “Did he really say that?” Unfortunately, the answer was yes. The clip was from a university (it may have been a graduation event, but I honestly don’t remember). This was the next morning on the news and he had issued no apology for that comment. I really don’t think he respects the military. And, I don’t want my husband treated like cannon-fodder.

    And, so you have all the facts, today even the enlisted soldiers can only get promoted so far without getting a college degree. Officers are required to have a bachelors and can only go so far without a masters. That’s one of the challenges with the deployment tempo. You have to be home station or with easy access to the internet to be able to finish a class, much less a degree.

    But, I’d really prefer to focus on the topics where we agree. Do we need to pull out? YES! It’s the details that are the tricky part.

    Jim – Thank your brother-in-law for me. I’ve made that same point to soldiers complaining about their first deployment in 22 years of service. If you are willing to take the money, you have to be willing to pay the price. And, yes, it is VERY high. It’s a matter of honor and I would say you have a very honorable brother-in-law.

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