Right Words Said at the Right Time Can Cause a Political Revolution

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The Toronto Star

Right Words Said at the Right Time Can Cause a Political Revolution

by
Richard Gwyn

America is America again.

America, that is to say, is once again America at its best - optimistic, risk-taking, extraordinarily resilient and with the energy and nerve it takes to do things. Or, at any rate, the energy to try to do things in a fresh and radically different way.

This is what Barack Obama has done for his own people. It is also what he has done for a great many people around the world. And few stand to be affected more by the change than Canadians.

All of the preceding paragraphs, however, must be qualified by cautionary words such as potentially, possibly, perhaps.

Even within the relatively narrow confines of the Democratic presidential nomination contest, Obama may prove to be a flash in the pan, sort of as Howard Dean was during the contest in 2004.

He may not win the presidential nomination. By next November, at which time the U.S. economy will very likely be in recession, voters may be looking for a president with practical skills rather than with theatrical ones.

If Obama does win the presidency, he might prove to be a disappointment.

He really is inexperienced to be head of state and government of the world's only hyper-power, with all its multiple international responsibilities. It's one thing for a leader to say the right things, but quite another to make the right decisions month in, year out, and to implement them effectively.

But the right words said at the right time can cause a political revolution. Obama has touched a chord with Americans and many outside the country as no other modern president has since John F. Kennedy and his call to Americans that they "ask what you can do for your country," and Franklin D. Roosevelt with his invocation in the middle of the Depression that "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Moreover, Obama has connected with Americans in two ways, each distinctive, each potentially transformational at the same time: By his rhetoric and by his person.

With his rhetoric, Obama has made "change" the touchstone by which all the candidates are now judged; Republicans no differently than Democrats.

He offers few specifics about the kind of change he has in mind. But great numbers of Americans understand fully and applaud ecstatically the direction of the change that he seeks.

It's toward harmony and healing from today's deep divisions, both cultural, as between the "blue and red states" - liberals and neoconservatives - to which he so often refers, and also between the races, white and non-white.

In place of division, suspicion and even hatred, he offers "hope." As Obama has said: "Hope is what led a band of colonists to rise up against an empire. What led the greatest of generations to free a continent ... Hope is what led me here today, with a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas ... Hope is the bedrock of this nation."

Obama connects because he is so new, so much of today, so clearly a break from the past. Because he is black. Because he is young. Because in his manner and style he is so palpably someone who belongs in the 21st century rather than the 20th.

Because Obama is so different a politician, a great many people outside America will look at America differently. Never in its history has the U.S. been so widely disliked, feared, downright detested as it is today.

Among these people looking in, few are more likely to be affected than Canadians. As is obvious, we'll no longer have George W. Bush to kick around.

Far more significantly, we'll find ourselves wondering why America can every now and then produce an Obama. Not long after reflecting about that, we'll find ourselves wondering why the best we can produce is a Stephen Harper and a Stéphane Dion.

It matters, critically, that Obama should be offering Americans "the vision thing." It matters at least as much that Americans, from some distinctively American instincts and attitudes deep inside themselves, should have decided that this is the time for them to take a dare on a vision.

--Richard Gwyn

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