Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hope is not a Strategy

When it comes to voting, or not voting, for Barak Obama, there are two unspoken questions that come to mind. The first question is “How do I feel about Barak Obama?” The Obama campaign has tried mighty hard to answer this question for me. They have been working overtime to pound their answer into my head. I should, according to their wisdom, feel hopeful. I should feel hope. Hope. And I should feel hopeful because Mr. Obama is going to bring change. Hope for change.

And to be honest, sometimes, listening to him, I get that feeling. Just a little bit.

Just as when I listen to Bill Clinton, first I admire his style. This, I confess, is a bit of a professional regard granted from one professional communicator to another. I know quality work when I see it. Content aside, the ease with which Mr. Obama speaks, the clarity and precision of his speech is a joy to watch (especially in comparison with the current occupant of the White House). And when I let myself go beyond mere professional appraisal of his technique, and I allow myself to let the timbre and tone of his voice pass through me, to allow myself to get caught up in the cadence of his speech, and let all his sincerity and conviction and certainty touch me, I feel what Mr. Obama really believes, and I want to believe it too so that I can feel it too.

And yet…and yet…there is this second question that brings me up short, and does not allow me to let the first question go completely unchallenged. That second question is “What do I THINK of Mr. Obama?”

And frankly, at this point, I’m still sizing this one up. But I certainly don’t think of him in quite the positive terms that I feel for him – but not negative terms either. There is a certain mental bracketing taking place. I put him the “Needs More Data” category. There is too much fuzziness, too much cloudiness in my mind about the content of his positions and the direction his policies will take. This is in part due to my own lack of research. I have not been particularly diligent in listening and reading what the candidates say and do, nor in fact have I been particularly diligent in researching even the critical questions themselves. I really don’t know much about economics or law or sociology so that I can make judgments about the effects of this proposal, that policy, or this law. I make the best judgments I can with what I have to work with, but I fear that my actual knowledge of such things really doesn’t amount to much.

I have a general sense that I don’t really buy what he is selling, but I can’t articulate it in terms of concrete proposals that I am concretely refuting. I do know that hope is not a strategy. At least, hope by itself, untied from clear specific action is not a strategy.

The object of that hope is paramount to its realization. If I place my faith in falsehood and smoke, I will get lies and emphysema.

Action changes things. Right action changes things rightly. If the action is the wrong kind, or pointed toward the wrong end, the consequent change is not a solution, but a problem of it’s own. History is chock full of leaders who got people hoping about the wrong thing (or even the right thing), and then acted on it in the wrong way. We remember them as a mix of bozos, losers and opportunists, tyrants, two-bit despots, and dictators, with a generous helping of truly evil sociopaths thrown in for good measure

I’m not lumping Obama in that category, but simply saying that hope alone is too malleable a thing on which to build a regime. It is too easily twisted, too susceptible to corruption.

The fact is, I think Obama is going to win this one. He is too good at making people feel good. McCain can be a right as rain, but he has thus far lacked the ability to spark a flame in people’s hearts. For good or for ill, Obama is doing that. I understand why and how he does it. I’m just not sure whether it will light a beacon or burn down our houses.

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