The writer, of Lincoln, NE, is a psychologist and the author of eight books on American life,including "Reviving Ophelia," "The Shelter of Each Other" and "Another Country."
I became a supporter of Barack Obama when I read his book "Dreams of My Father." I was struck that he was a child of poverty who worked hard for everything he achieved.
As an American boy in Indonesia, he woke to study at 4 a.m. daily as his mother taught him what he needed to know to excel in U.S. schools. As a scholarship student at every school he attended, he surpassed all expectations.
His passion was helping others. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Obama turned down lucrative, prestigious work for a $13,000-a-year job as a community organizer in Chicago.
One story he told from that era deeply moved me. After working for months to organize a neighborhood event that no one attended, Obama’s staff was tired and discouraged. They threatened to quit.
As they talked, Obama stood looking out a window at young boys tossing stones at the vacant windows of a boarded-up apartment. He called his staff over to the window. He asked, "What do you suppose is going to happen to those boys out there? Who’s going to make sure they get a fair shot? The alderman? The social workers? The gangs? Answer my question before you quit your jobs." His staff stayed on.
Obama is a man of focused intelligence, excellent character and sturdy temperament. He is capable of hard work and self-discipline. As a first-time campaigner for president, he was able to best John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
He now leads in the polls because of his diligence and effective planning. He is calm, reflective and decisive. Given that our country is facing a crisis of staggering proportions, these are critical virtues.
He is adaptive and resilient, and he has thrived wherever he was planted. This was true when he moved from Indonesia to Hawaii to live with grandparents he barely knew and attend an exclusive high school. It was true when, as an outsider, he entered the insular world of Chicago politics. And it has been true during his campaign for president.
All his life, Obama has sought out talented people who could teach him what he needed to know and who could work with him to meet common goals. He is a pragmatist and a problem-solver, a man who knows how to listen.
Obama passionately believes in the power of a community. His experience as an outsider with few external resources has showed him the importance of the shelter of others. Deep in his bones, he seems to know that our job as humans is to take care of one another. He is both a natural and a skilled community builder.
In speeches, Obama often expresses what I suspect is his core value: "We are all in this together." He invites everyone to the table and encourages us to once again make America compassionate, fair and functional.
We need a leader who can inspire not only Americans but also all the world’s citizens to have hope, to believe in a common dream and to work together to make it a reality.
As we have seen, Obama can be a fighter. As president, he would be vigilant. But being a fighter is not enough. The complexities of the problems we face require a thinker, builder and peacemaker.
Every now and then, people are fortunate enough to have just the leader they need in a great crisis. In our Civil War, it was Abraham Lincoln; in the Great Depression, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt. In World War II, Britain was saved by Winston Churchill, and at a critical moment, South Africa was blessed with Nelson Mandela.
As November 2008 nears, we Americans are extraordinarily lucky to have Barack Obama. He will help us heal our broken country. He will inspire us to transform our troubled world.