An editorial about Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in this Saturday’s Montreal Gazette stated that “hope and oratory are not enough.” The Obama candidacy has indeed displayed a mixture of idealism and hope, but what he’s shown on his recent trip is a strong sense of realism. This is why I could not let this editorial go by without a response. When you read Obama’s positions and his book—”The Audacity of Hope”—you see that Obama is very down to earth in dealing with complex international issues.
It is tempting to keep asking for specifics after Barack Obama delivers another version of his stirring oratory. Those specifics can easily be found on his website—not to mention that, throughout 2007, Obama delivered mostly policy wonk type messages despite being 20 points behind in the polls.
It was clear that his theme of change needed to be presented in terms that mobilized and inspired a call to action. The victory in Iowa opened the way to this of message. The active involvement of young people, as well as the creative and judicious use of the Internet resulted in the “long shot” candidate overtaking the established front runner, Hillary Clinton. His current world tour showed that his message also resonates beyond the borders of America, which will be necessary if America is to reestablish a degree of moral leadership in the world.
The last 3 decades have seen the emergence of a class of politicians, programmed through focus group messaging, saying the right things but not the real things. Change is the mantra of all politicians aspiring to high office. But those who cling to specifics and fail to inspire and persuade the electorate to engage in the quest for a real change of direction quickly become run-of-the-mill politicians. Compare the specifics of a big government program like Bill Clinton’s failed health care plan from 1992 or Bush senior’s promise of “no new taxes” just before he raised them to JFK’s commitment to sending a man on the moon “in this decade” and RFK’s call “to seek a newer world.” Let me say I prefer the latter two.
In the American system of government ,the most successful presidents are those who governed by instilling hope and using oratory to mobilize and persuade their electorate. Thomas Jefferson, FDR, and Abraham Lincoln are examples of this kind of leadership. No one can predict whether Obama will be that kind of president, but let us hope that he remains inspired by their brand of change and not the kind America has had in recent years.