I think Mr. Obama is speaking a new language. If so, anybody who still listens in the old language, the language of resignation and cynical suspicion and conspiracy that the previous bunch of sleazebags so validated, will certainly continue to find things to carp and snipe about. But that kind of talk just doesn't fit Obama like it fit those other bums.
Our new President speaks from another place. He speaks globalese. He speaks context. He speaks possibility and intention. He is way conversant in moonshot declaration and hat-over-the-wall commitment. You say it can't be done? Fine, you're in charge of the Office of It Can't Be Done; now let's get to work. Charlayne Hunter-Gault nailed it: transcendent. Mr. Obama stands in the world he envisions, and invites us to join him there.
Going to Washington and working with the people who were already movers and shakers in the old game is itself a bold stroke of pure audacity. But Mr. Obama brings a new kind of politics; or to be more accurate, a politics that has been suspended, starved, bombed and tortured out of existence during the Cheney/Bush years. The kind of politics exemplified by people whose names are part of the education of small children now: King. Mandela. Ghandi.
Kennedy? Not so simple a parallel, but not because of his ancestry as a white man; perhaps because of his ancestry as the child of a bootlegger... Anyway. When the old administration wanted something, they deployed a veritable army of bureaucrats and cronies and thinktanks and wingnut whackos with megachurches and set media echo chambers ringing with their "talking points," and then hammered away at us until we were numb as a box of rocks. They pitted half the people most affected against the other half. Then they did exactly the opposite of what they said they were up to. They implemented wanton sabotage in their attempt to destroy forever the New Deal and all it represented to hereditary wealth and power. Their appeal to the public was all hat and no cattle. Appearance was everything. Reality? What a concept.
To Mr. Obama, on the other hand, it's about critical mass. When an idea's time has come, even self-interested schemers can't fight it. Indeed, the most Machiavillian can only further the action. And this is not actually a new politics. There are strains of H.H. The Dalai Lama, Maslow, Erhard and less well-known people of genius like Peter Block, of Cincinnati, OH, in his rhetorical lineage. Appearance takes care of itself, in the eyes of beholders who are also stakeholders: substantive change arises from seeds sown in fertile ground, and incrementally, by trim-tabbing and relationship and engagement in community. This is an approach utterly foreign, completely obscure to the likes of that dick Cheney and his backers. Mr. Obama gathers all the interested parties and says something like, "Ok, look: this could work, if we really wanted it to. How about it? Do we really want to go around that same old vicious circle again?
I cry at weddings. I cry when I hear real music. And Mr. Obama is about to take the Oath of Office in about half an hour as I write. I took the day off, and I got a big box of kleenex. I'm all set to hear this man articulate a vision that everyone I know shares and has cherished in the long, cold dark since the assassinations of the sixties. Call me a sentimental old softy. But then go out and grab hold of the vision and work like you've never worked before. Because I'm talking about the possibility that even now, even here, we could make this time the bottom of our slide toward oblivion, and change course.
To accomplish this, we may have to learn over again how to listen, not to what Mr. Obama says, but to the way Mr. Obama speaks. For my money, he will do as well as anyone, as a leader. If we grant him that capacity in our listening, he will do just fine.