Sunday, February 24, 2008

Barack Obama is an Empty Suit, and Yet...

There is something about Obama. It's hard to identify. It's hard to quantify. But still, there's something about Obama.

A bit of a speech Obama delivered Feb 19 in Houston, Texas has been on my mind because it reminded me of something I couldn't quite remember until today - a poem about possibilities.

Rudyard Kipling -


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Barack Obama -

And if we could just get beyond
the divisions that have become
so commonplace
in our politics,
if we could bridge the divides
so that black, white, Hispanic,
Asian, Native American,
young, old, rich and poor,
Republican, Democrat,
if we could join together to challenge
the special interests in Washington,
but also to challenge ourselves,
also to challenge ourselves
to be better,
to be better neighbors,
to be better citizens,
to be better parents,
then I believe
there [is] no challenge we could not solve,
no destiny we could not fulfill.
Obama seems ubiquitous. If not himself, then the idea of Obama. As Dino Demopoulos of Chroma puts it: "Is there even a point in making the distinction? ... he has become a canvas for the projection of everything positive that Americans want to believe in... The idea of Obama is pretty compelling..." He has become "an open-sourced candidate. He can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people..." To illustrate his point, Dino sends readers to Barack Obama is your new bicycle and push refresh to get a new message of affirmation.

Obama is not just a candidate for President of the United States, he is a branded commodity. But a brand speaking a language viscerally understood by millions in the Western world, especially in the Anglo-American world. He is criticized for being an empty suit and a stuffed shirt at once; a man of style, but no substance. His words ring hollow without the one thing that gives them meaning, the one thing that has always offered comfort - hope.

Many before him have had the same and worse said about them. Some have been killed for the seemingly empty promises offered to the star struck and yearning masses:

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. - Jesus of Nazareth

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty . . . Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace. - John F. Kennedy

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. - Abraham Lincoln.

To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse then starving the body; it is starvation of the soul, the dweller in the body. - Mohandas Gandhi
I do not mean to endorse Barack Obama, merely try to understand the phenomenon that is Obama. He cannot be dismissed out of hand because within the nebulous ideas are the seeds of this nation stretching back to the Magna Carta, The Mayflower Compact, The Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address, I Have a Dream and all the way to our own day.

Hope and an unshakable belief in the possibilities of tomorrow that is the heritage of America is what is being offered by Obama. We all feel it to some degree, but for many of us, there must be more, something more solid, more substantive, more factual - something more than hope.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.


The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Very interesting post, Indigo. Good comparison between the Kipling poem and Barack speech.

I think I am beginning to understand some of the commitment by his supporters to rest their support of him, based on faith and hope, and not on any evidence that he has what it takes to, based upon past action, to be able to carry out the dream of a better and brighter tomorrow. If I pretend that he were a conservative candidate whose voting record was the exact polar opposite to Obama's Senate voting record, and he spoke with the same eloquence, I too, might be all ga-ga over him, not understanding why liberals and any "reasonable" people weren't jumping on the bandwagon.

And conversely, then, is there any doubt that the America Obama envisions is not the America I want to live under?

Indigo Red said...

Thanks, Word. I was apprehensive about this post, not knowing whether or not my point had come through. I'm heartened that it did.

I agree with you. Had Obama been a Conservative, most of the Republican party would gladly be behind him. As it is, the kind of America Obama wants just isn't an America I recognize.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Well, Indigo, the last sentence of your reply to the first commenter just sums it up for me. I want no part of the America Senator Obama wants.

It's all very well to be for hope and change. It's all very well to be a splendid orator, who understands cadence and rhythm -- just like Kipling, my favorite poet in the English language. But Obama is a most un-Kiplingesque person.

Yes, hope and change are good things, as are belief. But the most important question is what his listeners hope for; what change he wants to bring, what he invites us to believe. Hope, change and belief, in the wrong directions, are among the most dangerous sentiments in existence.

Indigo Red said...

Agreed, El Jefe. Obama's change message is very pliable. It means whatever one wants it to mean. To me it means that Barry Obama will pay all my bills, put billions of dollars in my retirement fund, and provide me with my own Tuscan villa.

I can't decide on the chance of all that happening though - fat chance or slim chance?

Tom C said...

I don't much believe in hope.It was hard work and sweat that fed me all these years, not obama.
Damn I can already feel his hand on my wallet.

Indigo Red said...

Not only does he already have his hand in your wallet, Tom, he's already told you how much more he intends to take.

Gayle said...

Good post, Indigo. Never for a moment did I suspect it was your intention to endorse Obama. Perish the thought!

Yes, he speaks well but methinks he speaketh with forked tongue. Farrakhan is endorsing him, and Obama's church has endorsed Farrakhan! I've heard the argument that it's not Obama's fault Farrakhan is endorsing him, but I think it's truly a good indication of who this man really is. He is very, very scary!