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Earlier this week, Americans went to the polls to voice their support for the man they thought most likely to effect positive change in this country. After a hard-fought campaign on both sides, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — a dynamic public speaker and a Paul Simon protege — was elected the 44th President of the United States of America.
I voted for Obama. My reasons were many, but in the end, they came down to one: I like the way I feel when I hear Obama speak.
I don’t mean that he tells me what I want to hear so I can feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I mean that he motivates me to get off my duff and go do something for my country.
I have always agreed with Ross Perot’s assertion that the presidency is basically the world’s greatest bully pulpit — a position from which one individual has the ability to influence millions of other individuals to effect positive change.
Bill Clinton understood that. George H.W. Bush understood that. Remember his inaugural address? “I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good….” (I’m still trying to figure out how, in 20 years, we got from there to here. I suspect political science professors will be studying that for a long time.)
Ronald Reagan understood. I’m too young to remember Jimmy Carter’s words as president, but based on his work with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations in the years since he left the White House, I think there’s little doubt that he understood, too.
For a moment, just after Sept. 11, 2001, I had the feeling that George W. Bush understood. He said some things that gave me hope. He reassured me that despite the uncertainties in the economy following the terrorist attacks, the best thing I could do for my country would be to go forward with the purchase of a home Ron and I had found and liked. I appreciated that, and we responded by closing on the house.
Somewhere along the way, however, the wheels fell off, and the president stopped inspiring me. I think I was not alone. And I think that may have something to do with why the country is not in as good a shape now as it was then.
Others may disagree, but I have always believed that — to quote George Orwell — “if there was hope, it lay in the proles.”
For me, Perot’s “bully pulpit” definition of the presidency is the most important aspect of that office. I’ve never counted on my government to get anything right. I’m a little too cynical to believe that politicians have my best interests at heart or that they’re going to do right by me if I’ll just get out of the way and let them. If government were capable of solving the world’s problems, communism would work. It doesn’t, because government isn’t.
I’m not naive enough to rely on my president to solve my problems. But I like for him to give me my marching orders. I want him to tell me what needs to be done. I want him to tell me what I personally can do. And I want him to believe I can do it.
That may be a simple, small thing, but it’s in millions of simple, small things that we find our nation’s real power and its real identity.
Here’s hoping that President Obama can inspire all of us to do the simple, small things that will make a big difference in the coming years.