Like RFK, Obama is an inspirational leader, but we must also lead ourselves to get things done
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Wed, 06/04/2008 – 8:44am
photo from here
About 20,000 people gathered together in a hockey arena, had to go through Secret Service requirements to get in, wait around for some time, and then watch a 30-minute political speech. And there was about 15,000 people who watched on giant screens from outside the arena.
This is not a typical political experience.
Could you imagine Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, or Walter Mondale stirring this kind of enthusiasm and crowd?
The traditionally non-political element of our society, a rather large group, given the percentages of people who go out and vote, are joining in a process in part because they are excited about a candidate for president of the United States. And that candidate is Barack Obama.
Bill Clinton in 1992 is the only parallel in terms of excitement in my lifetime. But the obvious comparison is Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. It is significant that, the day after Obama officially became the presumptive nominee for president, is the day 40 years ago that Kennedy won the California primary.
I’m not trying to compare Obama to RFK literally. There are many intangibles where there is a difference between the two situations and the two men.
But there are some similarities.
“If there is one lesson of this political year,” he began, “it is that the people of this country wish to move away from the politics which led to an endless war abroad and to increasing unrest in our own country.”
“The divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society — the divisions, whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or on the war in Vietnam — is that we can start to work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country.”
That sounds familiar.
And, like Kennedy, it hasn’t been how Obama says what he says that draws 19,000 people for a 30-minute speech. It is what he says.
The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy is sad on many levels not just because a great leader was taken far before his time. The tragic death of RFK appeared to be the final straw. This is quite understandable given the April assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and, of course, the November 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The strong leadership that this country needed did not come forward after RFK’s death. This isn’t a judgment, just an observation. Instead, we were left in the hands of leaders such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.
What I really enjoyed about Obama’s speech last night was a theme he has been running throughout his campaign: that 19,000 people do not crowd into a hockey arena because of Barack Obama; they are there because they can take charge of their own destiny if they work hard for it.
“But at the end of the day, we aren’t the reason you came out and waited in lines that stretched block after block to make your voice heard. You didn’t do that because of me or Senator Clinton or anyone else. You did it because you know in your hearts that at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — we cannot afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We owe our children a better future. We owe our country a better future. And for all those who dream of that future tonight, I say — let us begin the work together. Let us unite in common effort to chart a new course for America.”
Americans crave strong leadership, but when they get it, they respond by doing the hard work needed to improve our lives.
And no offense to Bill Clinton, but we haven’t had that type of leadership in this country since, well, 1968. Barack Obama is the closest we have come to that level of leadership. Strong leadership can inspire, but we, as citizens, still have to take responsibility ourselves to make this country better.