My father used to tell me that both cream and scum rise to the top. Of course we lived in Louisiana, where the air is thick, the gumbo sublime and the politics are a muted shade of green scum. The only cream is in café au lait. I left my home in New Orleans many years ago to chart my own course in the world. But the wit and wisdom of his words have stayed with me.
An absolute and unapologetic idealist, I have often been disappointed in politics—especially of late. I am appalled by the politics of fear that permeate our society today. Of course there are things to fear in the world—terrorists, nuclear bombs, extremists, global warming, things that go bump in the night and more. As our leaders work to actively feed these fears, the news media lends a supporting cast of thousands to the chorus of “Be afraid, be very afraid.”
By fanning the flames of fear we have allowed hate to rise in its smoke. We are a country divided—by issues, by shades of red and blue, by haves and have-nots. We have been fed solutions to our fears that look viable only through a heavily smoked lens. The problems of the world are real, but we have manufactured the fear ourselves.
Where is the leadership that will stand by us one and all and banish these fears? Who among us will bring courage and vision into the fold? We are a great nation but we haven’t been acting like one.
A key leadership trait is the ability to motivate a group of people to work toward a common goal. More than pointing out a direction, a great leader can inspire us to be great ourselves, to bring out the best in each of us and not the worst.
As I watch the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate debates and take in the policies, sound bytes and spin of the candidates, I find refreshing and inspiring words and ideas coming from Barak Obama. He is the only candidate talking about us as a nation, one nation, rising to meet the challenges of our world.
Both Obama and Clinton have similar views on the problems facing us. Each has plans, policies, programs and solutions that will require legislation and consensus. Obama has something more—leadership that can inspire us to be more than we otherwise would be. It is not required that any president have all the answers or even that they master the minutiae of economics or global warming (although it would be good if our leaders at least acknowledged the existence of global warming and worked to address it). Our country is rich with experts and advisors. What our president can bring to the office is leadership that inspires.
Barack Obama said:
“But sometimes, just sometimes, there are nights like this, a night that, years from now, when we’ve made the changes we believe in, when more families can afford to see a doctor, when our children inherit a planet that’s a little cleaner and safer, when the world sees America differently, and America sees itself as a nation less divided and more united, you’ll be able to look back with pride and say that this was the moment when it all began. This was the moment when the improbable beat what Washington always said was inevitable. This was the moment when we tore down barriers that have divided us for too long; when we rallied people of all parties and ages to a common cause; when we finally gave Americans who have never participated in politics a reason to stand up and to do so.
“This was the moment when we finally beat back the policies of fear and doubts and cynicism, the politics where we tear each other down instead of lifting this country up. This was the moment.”
You will hear the skeptics decry Obama’s messages as only words. But words are our means of communicating ideas and visions. Words are the threads that connect us. Words inspire. Words give strength. Words allow us to believe.
“The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.
That is what we started here in Iowa and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond.
The same message we had when we were up and when we were down; the one that can save this country, brick by brick, block by block, that together, ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Because we are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America. And in this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again.”
We are still moved by the words of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt and others. These leaders were asking us to rise above our fears and together create something that is greater than the sum of us. Obama’s words are asking no less.
“But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path.
It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.”
As you go to the polls on March 4 for the primaries, allow yourself the opportunity to be inspired and perhaps the cream will indeed find its way to the top.
Rebecca, ever the idealist, will be walking her yellow dog to the polls in March.
Rebecca Melançon is the publisher of The Good Life.