Thursday, June 5, 2008

Being Barack Obama II

This afternoon I had a meeting with a prominent businessman and councilman of a local government who is 88 years young. He is quick, passionate, loving, and intelligent. He is in many regards my hero. After we were well into our meeting, the conversation turned to politics. I expressed my enthusiasm for Barack, which he did not share. He is a veteran who served stateside in WWII and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Listening to him, I got the distinct impression that he did not appreciate Barack's appeal to the masses. He did not appreciate the fact that many were drawn to his message that has little to do with swooning faint-hearted women, though many such women swooned for Clinton too, but rarely -- if ever -- for McCain. In this case, he would be the best candidate. Not! (Though, I’m very respectful of his past service to our beloved ever increasing unified country, the United States of America.)

Now, my councilman is a diehard liberal who serves his largely affluent African American constituency with honor and distinction and works tirelessly for the poor and downtrodden. But the past of another speaker that galvanized a country for evil seemed to loom large in our discussion, though the name was never mentioned. My beloved councilman was very “leery” of Barack. “I was for Hillary, he said. “You will see in time that you have made a mistake,” he warned. I respectfully disagreed in silence, seeing clearly what appeared to me to be a distrust of the past and not the present.

As we spoke I was reminded of another discussion that I had with one of my favorite professors of philosophy who, did not serve in WWII, but whose grandfather had escaped the Holocaust. He too had a great aversion to eloquent passionate men of power and distinction that drew masses of people. As a matter of fact, he had some concerns about Martin Luther King and his ability to draw crowds, though he appreciated his message.

To seek to squelch a leader (this may very well be a lost cause in Barack’s case as he is so universal) because of his passion and eloquence, because he has both the power and humility (the latter is very much lacking in dictators or egotists) to ignite the people to bring about change does not guarantee a repeat of historical atrocities. Communication and openness might. Though, I shudder to think of the holocausts that have happened since and are happening right now in other parts of the world.

There would have been no Martin Luther King, no John and Robert Kennedy, no Barbara Jordan (a personal favorite), if we sought to shut down these great orators and igniters of passion. I think it was Tom Peters who said that we should not even speak unless our intentions are to change the world. Without passion, it is virtually impossible to change anything or anyone. What then would we be? Unchanged.


John O'Leary said...

Geez, its a head-scratcher when someone's visionary eloquence is held AGAINST him. Certainly SOME aspect of leadership is correlated to one's ability to articulate a direction and inspire people to follow.

judith ellis said...

No doubt, John! There is most certainly an aspect of eloquence and vision in leadership. Without such, we fumble along, direction-less.