Saturday, May 03, 2008

Obama and our hope against hope

By Dan Beauchamp

No matter how the whole uproar over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright turns out, the candidacy of Senator Obama reassures me about the birth of genuine hope in our politics.

True hope is a kind of hope against hope, as Paul Tillich once argued. True hope is hope in the face of a seeming defeat or powerful setback. Hope is not the belief that ultimately everything will always turn out right, either for America or for us. True hope is not a sunny, shallow optimism.

True hope, according to Tillich, is when we know, we feel, we sense that something new is being created or is unfolding, either in us or in our community, no matter what else is happening.

Our hope in Senator Obama is genuine because in his candidacy we feel down deep the beginnings of something important. We sense the birth of something new. We sense in Obama a genuine opening to the future and this is where true hope always begins --with an opening, a new possibility for our future.

Senator Obama represents a genuine chance for narrowing the racial divide and driving it from our politics. As this is the master divide of our politics, our hope in Obama is that we might also narrow the other divides of our politics.

We have been astounded at the crowds he has addressed, the genuine excitement he has unleashed. But more than this, we know, down deep, that unless we break free of the racial divide, we will never be the people we can be. Senator Obama represents the opportunity to start breaking free. We feel this excitement and this hope in our bones.

This is what the right wing fears in Senator Obama. If Obama wins, the odds go way up that their vision of politics is entering its last days. This is why they want Hillary because Hillary will play by the rules of their game, the game that squelches true hope.

Even if Obama is defeated, we sense that our hope is genuine and not vanquished. Even as the media stirs up the enemies of hope to increase market share, we know what we feel and acknowledge: hope is in the air and in our bones.

This is the opportunity that Obama offers. He may fail. Our politics may slide back into cynicism and despair and the media will then seek to build market share on that failure.

But our task, as the party of hope and as people of the future, is to remember: our party is willing to stake its fortunes and future on a genuine, authentic, audacious hope. We sense this hope in the full knowledge that our party has not always been the party of hope.

We also felt that hope with John Edwards. We feel it even with Hillary Clinton, even though that hope is often buried under a mountain of political calculation, a calculation that she must play by the rules of the game that Karl Rove set out.

The other morning my wife and I voted early here in Durham, and the polling place was really, really crowded and happy. Everyone was smiling. The staff at the Main Library said that they had voted and that their youngsters who can vote for the first time will be voting.

Something is going on, no matter what happens on Tuesday here in North Carolina. Obama has given birth to our hope. True hope, the real hope, is back and here to stay, and so are we.

Dan Beauchamp, Ph.D., is a writer living in Durham, North Carolina. Formerly a health official in New York and Washington, he has taught at schools of public health at a number of universities, including the University of North Carolina and the University at Albany, SUNY. To go directly to Beauchamp's, blog, called "Tales of Copper City," just click on the title of this post.

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