Who would have thought, watching Barack Obama at a community organizing meeting in 1983, that in 2008 he would stand before 20,000 people in Detroit and be introduced by Al Gore as "The next President of the United States?" Gore's mantra in that introduction was "Elections matter!", and his point was echoed by booming cheers roaring from the audience.
A side rant: later that day, I nearly choked on my toast watching a well-known news person characterize the above scene as "Al Gore, the loser in the 2000 election, introduced Barack Obama...". Interesting way to frame the only man in our history who lost an election by decree - by one vote on the Supreme Court. Al Gore, the man who was vice-president of United States for eight years, who went on to write the Academy-Award winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth", and who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change, was dismissed by a man who couldn't hope to accomplish half of his public service, as a "loser". WTF?
So who is "the real" Barack Obama? Here are a few more quotes from Dreams from My Father, which you may recognize from his speeches this year. It is my opinion that much of the man we see now was formed in the crucible of his grinding daily work in the Chicago slums, organizing the community to work for its own rights. Basic rights of tenants, for instance, to safe and working habitats, were not recognized by landlords without public pressure. (That is why they're called 'slums' you know.)
See how many of the following quotes you recognize from Senator Obama's rallies this year.
Here is an excerpt from one of my all-time favorite quotes from Barack Obama, on family.
"What is family? Is it just a genetic chain, parents and offspring, people like me? Or is it a social construct, an economic unit, optimal for child rearing and divisions of labor? Or is it something else entirely: a store of shared memories, say? ...
But I'd never arrived at a definite answer... Instead, I drew a series of circles around myself, with borders that shifted as time passed and faces changed... Until the circle finally widened to embrace a nation or a race, or a particular moral course, and commitments were no longer tied to a face or a name but were actually commitments I'd made to myself." pages 327-328
I don't know about you, but his prose on what is family reverberated with me very deeply. Perhaps partly because of my years doing genealogy (but that is for another post.)
"We share more than divides us." page 382
"...a faith born out of hardship -- a faith in other people." page 429
"In the end, I'm less interested in a daughter who's authentically African than one who is authentically herself." page 435
"The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience." page 437
The Barack Obama that I see is a man of strong convictions, born of his life experiences, a man blessed with exceptional talent and possessed of exceptional humility. In reading his biography, I learned that he demanded of himself the courage to face, to seek even, the sometimes unpleasant truths of his family history, and to embrace all those who contributed to his life with love and acceptance. I see a man who demands of himself a standard of public service and integrity that few can hope to match, perhaps none since JFK. Like JFK, he must overcome unreasoning prejudice and fear if he is to win the election. Perhaps no candidate since Kennedy has been the target of so many threats, and like JFK, he is determined to live in hope and not in fear.
For the first time in a long time, I have hope for my country.
Note: all quotes are from the hardcover version of Dreams from My Father, but the link is to the new, (and much less expensive) paperback version. As usual, I have made every effort to quote accurately, and any errors are mine, and mine alone. Disclaimer: I'm an independent, self-employed blogger and not employed or reimbursed by Barack Obama or any other person.