july 2005

click here for permalink July 14, 2005

Call me impressionable if you want, but it has been far too long since I was impressed by anyone or anything in politics. I've been on a rampage for the last day and a half and I'm quite enjoying it. It started at the Planet Waves' web log a couple of weeks ago with an entry written by Political Waves' Jude and a synopsis of the recent commencement speech at Knox University given by Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who I had never heard of.

This excerpt is from the June 22, 2005 post, on waiting for a sign that we've "turned a corner." Jude says, "I've felt it coming on... The window could be very small, the opportunity fleeting. We need something to wedge into the doorway of the nation's discontent... And then ... be still my heart ... I found something stunning from Barack Obama, boy wonder of the Democratic National Convention and one of our newest Senators. There is something downright "non-political" about Obama ... a genuineness that hasn't been beaten out of him yet, a Mr.-Smith-Goes-To-Washington intention to side-step politics, even in the midst of 'em, and reach for the dream of a restored America. When he speaks, you know his words are innate, not manufactured."

The complete transcript of that commencement speech is here and it is definitely something. Reading it, I couldn't help but think of "The West Wing." For me, this is not trivializing or being impressed by mere cadence or rhetoric over substance but still, in a way, I do think it's very telling and kind of sad that the most stirring politics in my frame of reference has been either fictional or three and a half decades old.

Besides, Martin Sheen, who gave voice to Aaron Sorkin's powerful presidential speeches, is himself a passionate political activist, having been arrested some 70 times, according to the IMDB, in the course of exercising his constitutional right to free assembly. (Sheen has said, "I make my living as an actor, but this is what I do to stay alive. My faith demands it. I love my country enough to risk its wrath.") Something like that can't help but infuse his role on "The West Wing" and the meaning of the words, the sincerity and the values being expressed end up transcending the medium.

Anyway, back to real politics, I was intrigued by Obama's speech and soon found myself scouring the Internet for other speeches and biographical info — I'm still trying to find one transcript in particular, that of an apparently impromptu speech he delivered to a crowd of protesters in New York. But I found transcripts and videos of his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and was greatly impressed, like everyone else who caught it, it seems. And he writes them himself, according to one site that devoted several pages to picking apart everyone else who spoke at the DNC.

After a while, I stumbled onto Body and Soul (a web log I was unfamiliar with but have since bookmarked and have slowly started reading backwards). Within the first two lines of her reaction to his keynote speech, I could completely relate to her observations; then, a few paragraphs down, I found myself in tears when she drew a comparison between this speech and those given by "Bobby." And again, a moment later, when she mentions "Martin."

She closes the entry by criticizing the cynics among us who treat politicians like "American Idol" contestants;

"I'm trying to imagine anyone ever listening to RFK or Dr. King speak and respond by saying, "Well, that's certainly going to do wonders for his career." How about what it would mean to the country to act as if we really believed in those ideals? You know what I wrote a few days ago about our desperate need for leaders who put our values before the nation, instead of acting as if there were something slightly embarrassing and old-fashioned about them? Well, this was it."

He sure looks like it from here... and wouldn't that be something?