Saturday, August 11, 2007

Roll Up Your Sleeves

"There's hope in every message of his. He doesn't talk about all the negative things, he'll inspire us with positivity instead."

After a Barack Obama event in downtown Manchester, I was searching to comprehend the content of Obama’s speech and the audience’s reaction, and that line is a part of what I heard as a group of volunteers gathered afterwards.

I don’t usually have to search for clues to the meaning of a speech. I spend most of the time at such events taking photos and moving around the location, I’ve always been able to absorb a large portion of whatever the candidate says. I try to be safe, however, and I always take an audio recording of every speech, question, and answer. Reviewing the speech is as easy as playing a file on iTunes, but I’ve never needed to go back and try to find out more.

Now I faced an entirely new situation: I couldn’t remember Barack actually laying out new policies or letting us know about anything he's working on in the Senate. To be fair, I do remember him receiving a substantial amount of applause for saying he would do away with the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military, but my mind was hazy on any details beyond that. One particular moment that I especially remember was when a woman asked the Senator about his health care policy; she had filed for bankruptcy due to the cost of successive medical treatments and procedures. I've heard Senator Edwards respond to situations like that, and he does it by outlining his plan for universal health coverage.

Obama can, and only did so much. He engaged the crowd and the woman by asking her to explain the details of her story. He sympathized with her and acknowledged the severity of the problems in the health care system. The Association of Health Care Journalists has a page on each candidate and their health proposals. Barack Obama's page is one line, filed under "Health care plan highlights," which sums up how I feel Obama's campaign is running at the moment: "Provide affordable, comprehensive and portable health care."

What that line from the AHCJ doesn't end with is, "for everyone." Obama's plan would establish a national health care plan and give Americans another health care coverage option--more honest and less money-driven than the HMOs of today--but only offering another option instead of making some real changes.

Other Democrats running for President (those apparently less "focused on a united message of hope" than Obama) are bolder and have some real highlights on their pages: "Ensure universal affordable quality coverage by creating a Health Care General Fund to serve all Americans. Then, require employers to either cover their employees or contribute to the fund." I won't hide the fact that I think Chris Dodd is one of those bold, solution-oriented politicians that is seemingly so unpopular in America--too old and thus out of touch with modern-day needs and concerns. A successful politician, however, is marked by a three-step cycle that I like to refer to: 'Optimism-Opposition-Resolve.’ The first step—the one Obama enjoys tapping into—is the most glamorous, youthful, and..."hopeful" of the three, but it only goes so far.

A voter asked Senator Obama what he would do in the coming months in the Senate to put an end to the war. It's a shame that I can't remember a word of Obama's response. But I'm pretty sure that had it been a powerful declaration of purpose and commitment to doing what it takes to work with or without Republicans and make a concerted effort to bring the troops home, I would have remembered. For now, he's just another member of the Democratic Congress that only 25% of Americans approve of. Obama, unlike others who have committed themselves to seeing their ideas through to completion, is still stuck on 'optimism,' and has yet to move past any 'opposition.'

As someone who put my faith in Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats this past election I'm ashamed not because the war isn't over—Republican opposition to a withdrawal will pose a mountain of opposition for the foreseeable future—but because that unguided optimism and promise of progress in ending the war sucked us into believing that we'd see a change.

The Democrats swept the 2006 election with a passionate opposition to the Iraq war. But instead of following through on their promises and forging ahead through opposition, legislators like Barack Obama have done little more than criticize the President and whoever votes to continue the conflict. Moreover, Obama continues to rewind to 2002 and brag about his opposition to the war while he was a member of the Illinois Senate, often claiming that it sets him apart from the Senators and Congressman who were fooled by Bush into supporting the war. His opposition back in 2002 should not be entirely overlooked, but having not received any of the intelligence reports from the Bush administration, he is certainly not worthy of as much praise as he claims for himself.

Good stock brokers or fund managers are characterized by an extraordinary ability to see the winning investment in the long run, but they sink fast if they can't scrap a plan together in a hurry if things start to go wrong. Now that things have been very wrong for a few years , Barack Obama hasn't put his career on the line to defend the war he says he so opposes. He knows as well as anyone what he'd like to see in Iraq, but I wonder how he can change the course of action we’re currently on.

Barack Obama's vision for America may be 20/20, but I'm worried he doesn't see what it takes to reach the results he always talks about.

While I have my doubts about Obama, it’s hard to deny the energy he’s bringing to the Democratic party. The excited spirits are back—they are young and old, men and women, students, families, or veterans. In large numbers they are setting their sights on a brighter day and conjuring up their dreams for a better country and world. His campaign workers and staffers smile more than they sweat as they hit the road to spread the word. It is, undoubtedly, the excitement that Barack and his campaign add to events such as the gathering in Manchester that will move voters towards his camp in 2008. Even I can't deny the possibility of one day being sucked in by that energy.

I’m sure any regular watchers of CSPAN have seen the reaction of Nancy Pelosi whenever the House passes one of its non-binding or futile attempts to block war funding or bring the troops home bills: a nice big grin, maybe some raised-arm cheers. To be honest, it’s a pretty sickening sight. If the Democrats could work as hard in seeking an actual end to the war as the Republicans have worked towards convincing the world progress is being made in Iraq, maybe we’d see some real results.

It's 2007 and there's still plenty of time for Obama to use his support to highlight some important issues and move towards ending the Iraq war—I just hope that's what he does. Given the problems we face now, having more ideas without any plans to get things done is no better than what we’ve got now.

Barack, roll up your sleeves and get down to work. We trust you. Take a risk.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

No comments: