Today’s diary is diverting to the political column and away from the literary tenor of the “An Evening with. . .” portion of this ongoing series. However, if you’d like to check out a more literary diary, try this one on Norah Ephron; on the other hand, if you want an eclectic read, I suggest this one, featuring Helen Thomas, Myra McPherson, Amy Goodman, and Paul Robeson Jr.
Barack Obama came to Miami in the flush of the feel-good mid-term post-election atmosphere. And he certainly received a feel-good welcome from the crowd of about 2000 Book Fair enthusiasts who had pre-queued for special (free) admission tickets. He spoke in the Gusman Theater downtown, an edifice built in the 1920s and restored through the leadership of one of Miami’s own part-time citizens, Sylvestor Stallone. In it’s heyday, Gusman Theater has seen the likes of Elvis Presley and Joan Sutherland – headliners all. And tonight’s “performer” was no exception.
Beneath the deep blue ceiling, studded with twinkling electric stars, members of the audience made themselves comfortable in red plush upholstered wooden chairs and gazed at, among other objects, the trompe l’oeil balcony replete with stuffed peacock, back-lit in red. Directly above center stage a niche is filled with a life-size statue of a Greek Muse, who benevolently and eternally watches the goings on in the Spanish Rococco hall. Spiraled columns, faux gardens, plastic palms, creeping vines, carved monkeys, and red wine drapes complete the decor. Only in Miami.
“I want to make a public confession,” Senator Obama said to the audience that had just seated itself after a two-minute standing ovation. “People’ve been asking me where I got this phrase, “audacity of hope.” I pilfered it from my pastor. Jeremiah White, Jr. of Trinity Baptist Church in Chicago.” While I haven’t read the book of that name, many people in attendance were clutching copies in their laps, in spite of knowing that the Senator would not be autographing them later.
Sen. Obama began to open up, revealing the man who would be president. “When in college, I wanted to know how to make a better life for people. I’d been inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and 70s. So, I wrote to every do-gooder organization I could think of. One was a group of churches in the south side of Chicago that was dealing with the consequences of the steel plant closings, the subsequent collapse of retail businesses, and the home foreclosures that resulted. Now, they didn’t have much money, only enough to hire a 23 year-old who didn’t know what he was doing
“Since I had a job working with churches, I thought I ought to go. And I began attending my present Baptist church where I heard Rev. White’s memorable sermon, ‘Audacity of Hope.’ You know, hearing the nightly news, it’s the easiest thing in the world to be cynical. It’s tempting to make the determination that there’s not much one can do to make a difference. So we isolate ourselves, carve out a niche for our families. What’s different, what requires boldness, risk, and audacity is to imagine solutions and apply will to problems we face. If we do, we can make change.
“To be hopeful is not to be ignorant, but to look squarely at problems and believe we can fix them. America has always been based on audacity.” Here Sen. Obama offered the examples of the American Revolution against the (then) world’s greatest navy. Then, the Great Experiment, when the newly independent colonies began to function as a democratic republic. He spoke of the Civil War as a “don’t think so” movement of abolitionists, and by extension, that same attitude applied to the Civil Rights Movement a century later. The power of audacity applied to will drove women to seek suffrage and has historically and presently been the driving force of immigrants who imagine a better life for themselves. Those earlier workers united in the Labor Movement to unionize, in spite of the nay-sayers.
“At each and every juncture, there are those who say, ‘It can’t be done.’ And those who say, ‘Why not? Let’s get it done.’ I think that can-do spirit has been lost to a degree. We are witnessing politics built around division, slash and burn campaigns.
“But this election tells us that the country’s mood has shifted to a fundamental seriousness, a certain sobriety. There is a recognition that this may be the first generation passing on an America poorer and meaner than the one we inherited.
“Now, health care issues can’t be “Republican” or “Democrat.” Education in the global economy is non-partisan, requiring students to be better prepared in math and science – how well America proceeds in the 21st C. will solely be determined by how fit our students are for the new economic reality. The environment and energy independence are unifying issues. We need to have the will to create wind, solar, bio-fuel, and flexi-fuel alternatives to the petro-based energy policy we have now. Iraq is a spin-free zone. You can’t apply PR to make it better. There are no shortage of patriots in this country. Americans know this war is based on lies. It’s time that the might of our military was matched by the strength of our diplomacy.”
The Senator characterized the citizenry as basically decent but confused . (Some watch the wrong TV news programs and listen to the wrong radio personalities, he said.) They don’t have time to go to primary source documents and read things like the Federal Budget or briefing papers. But they do know that something’s gone awry and want to see the country united around programs, not politics.
The essence of his book, is a 10-point plan for solving the problems mentioned, and others. But how can we have a conversation on common ground, shared values? "For that to happen, we need good work, leadership, and a renewed sense of citizenship," said Obama, echoing the ‘ask not’ phrases of JFK.
“The most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen. We must embrace civic life. Hope is not something that is given from the top down; it arises from the bottom up.” The point may be obvious to ‘citizens of the netroots’ that getting involved, becoming activists and advocates, participating in all phases of government and the electoral process is not merely a right but a duty. We believe that solving problems increases justice for everyone.
Sen. Obama revealed that his favorite saying comes from Martin Luther King, Jr., who, “Two weeks after Bloody Sunday to liberate Selma, said to his followers, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’" Senator Obama came to Miami to remind us, like Rev. King , ‘But it doesn’t bend on its own, it needs us to pull it.
During a Q&A session, Sen. Obama stated his position on several issues:
Hike in minimum wage
Reexamine Medicare Part D so that drug prices can be negotiated
Pass an ethics bill
Reduce interest rates on student loans
Initiate a phased withdrawl of troops from Iraq
He is ambiguous on GLB marriage issues: “I am a strong believer that there has to be a strong sense of full citizenship enjoyed by all – ability to pass on property, receive hospital visitation. And I see it as human rights legislation. I struggle with issues of gay marriage. Keep in mind the context. Miscegenation Laws. . .my own parents. It’s difficult for me to counsel be patient, you wait. If I were advising the Civil Rights Movement of the last century on whether to first go after voting rights or to overturn miscegenation laws, I would advise the former. But I feel that people who have strong beliefs and personal interests should mobilize and act.”
Favors D.C. statehood
Legislation he has introduced, is introducing:
Felony to engage in dirty tricks of misinformation and intimidation in elections
Process of e-billing in Medicare system
Universal health care
When asked if he’s going to run for president in ‘08, Sen. Obama said, “I’ll get back to you.” I take that as a ‘yes.’