In the end, it's still all about Hope.
The other side still traffics in the Phobocracy. In the currency of fear and despair. In a dark and difficult world it is so very tempting to just give in to those emotions. But everything we want to achieve requires us to be brave, and to offer hope instead.
Watching the President speak last night at the State of the Union I felt he showed us the choice, quite clearly, between Hope and Fear. And the GOP response to the speech doubled down on that difference. We can fear our future or we can shape it. We can fear the other or embrace each other. We can despair over the gap between our ideals and reality, or we can rise to the challenge of closing it.
I know which side I am on.
The President, last night, returned to a favorite theme:
Presidents frequently use the State of the Union address to introduce new ideas or try out new political themes. Not tonight. The Barack Obama you heard speaking to Congress was the Barack Obama who ran for president in 2008. And I think he's here to stay this time.
He talked of possibility, of a bright future for the nation -- its economy boosted by well-educated, creative and technologically advanced citizens. He talked of inclusion as a source of strength, whether it means welcoming immigrants to our country or gays and lesbians to the military. Certainly he spoke of limited resources and our present challenges. But they were positioned as hurdles we are capable of surmounting and catalysts for our creativity.
I wasn't surprised by the CNN poll result that "Seventy-seven percent say the speech made them more optimistic." That's how it made me feel.
E.J. Dionne heard the same thing I did
In American politics, optimism always triumphs over pessimism, as both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan understood. Thus, another choice Obama was trying to frame: Optimism about what government might do or pessimism about its capacity to do much of anything. And progressives tend to do better in a competition of the future versus the past than of the left versus the right.
And if you will permit me to return to one of my favorite themes, that feeling is a tremendous source of power:
I've studied organizing and social movements from the view of a scholar in the ivory tower and the perspective of a participant on the ground, and I have come to one key conclusion -- positive emotions motivate action.
Hope in the future, a belief you can make a difference, the understanding that change is possible, these are the essential ingredients in moving people to act for change. Apathy, fear and self-doubt keep us from acting. Organizers foster the faith in ourselves we need to make sacrifices and persist in the face of obstacles.
In other words: without hope there can be no change.
And more than that, the right wing talk of "death panels" and "socialism" and "anchor babies" and "Ground Zero Mosques" is a new kind of Phobocracy, using fear to divide Americans and resist progress. The language of violence matters, of course, but so does the language of fear. Our job is to counter the paralyzing framework of despair and anxiety, and move it to a sense of urgency, empowerment and optimism. Because those are the emotions that drive action.
I imagine that one of the hardest parts of being this President must be hard to get up every day and know you are not allowed, except in your most secret and private moments, to show fear. Not just because you are the President. But because your entire theory of leadership requires fostering hope in a dark and difficult world.
So perhaps, if you are this President, you carry around your stories of hope and aspirations to perfect our union. You remind yourself that change is possible. You think hard about a long term sustainable economic vision for our country -- and tell us we must strive for it.
After all, you are the Optimist in Chief.
I am a volunteer with Organizing for America in California and former staff member of OFA and the 2008 presidential campaign. This is my personal blog. My diaries, and all the words in them, are my own.