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Kingston, NY, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008

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Lost and Found
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

ON TUESDAY night, Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for president, swept Wisconsin and Hawaii to tally up ten straight wins. This was a blow to Hillary Clinton, who had expected to do better in Wisconsin than in Obama's home state. She figured to take one of the two. She did not.
Their speeches that evening were fascinating in themselves. Stung by criticism that she is not inspiring, Mrs. Clinton put aside her usual detailed laundry list of proposed policies and tried for a broader oration. The pundits found it flat, as did I. Her attempts to find her authentic voice come and go as her handlers steer her toward damage control in a race for nomination that she had been projected to have nailed down by now. Her talents are more apparent when they are not shoved into a formula.
Mr. Obama's speech was, likewise, adjusted to meet criticism. He added more detail to his policy proposals, while never deviating from his altruistic call for change and embrace of hope. Hope has been a defining theme of Obama's campaign; and his life, as indicated by his second book, The Audacity of Hope -- it also offers his critics an opportunity to attack hope as an empty bag of air. But Obama defends hope very effectively, he is nothing if not convincing. I have long admired his speaking ability, but I am wary of campaign promises; he made many that evening.
At some point I was overwhelmed at how ambitious, how complete, his 'to do' list has become. Ideas enter public consciousness by repetition, by hearing them over and over, which is why campaign speeches sound like echoes. My only cable news channel, CNN, has been running an ongoing series for the last few months on our failing systems entitled "Broken Government." That reality has entered the public mind, punctuated by our daily challenges to stretch a dollar and keep the mortgage paid. Mr. Obama had evidently been paying attention, enumerating the problems he promises to address in a manner that accentuated their sheer number and left me rather breathless. He knows, I thought at one point. He's nailing it -- he's the nominee.
Now, to be fair, Hillary Clinton's laundry list is undoubtedly as complete as Barack Obama's. Her experiences make her as uniquely qualified to be president as do his; her supporters would tell you more so. The sniping between the two nominees has been nit-picky because their policy proposals are, on whole, not at odds with one another -- the devil is in the details of style and resonance. If nominated, if elected, will either fulfill their campaign promises? I don't know. CAN either do so given the economic challenges that grow by the minute and the shifting world politics that flare into bonfires on a daily basis? I don't know that either.
What I do know is that the United States of America was robbed of its opportunity to burst into the 21st century with eager optimism when the Supreme Court interfered with the political process and handed the presidency to George Walker Bush. Instead of moving ahead into a bright global future, we shifted gears into tribal mentality and crusading religious repressions that felt more like the 12th century than the 21st. As with a death, half of this nation went through a grieving process that included denial, rage, bargaining and depression. We ended up feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and after the 2004 election and the voting irregularities in Ohio that gave Bush another four years...hopeless. Hope -- there's that word again.
Psychically, living without hope is like living without oxygen. We've been gasping for air for a long while now; many of us noticed, some sooner than others -- and some of us are still too busy putting one foot in front of the other to realize that our lethargy and exhaustion is a direct reflection of sociopolitical windows and doors slamming shut all around us, keeping the air stale and 'safe' from progressive, hence dangerous, influence. We could all use a direct transfusion of bright, shiny hope right now. Just the thought of it squares up our shoulders, lifts our gaze above the mundane probabilities -- allows us a deep breath.
Because of Mr. Obama's vision for a different political structure, Mrs. Clinton finds herself in the unhappy position of attacking hope and defending politics as we know them, telling us she's at the top of that 'red meat' political food chain we know so well, and she most definitely is. Trouble is...we may be going vegan. We may be longing for a diet change, having come to the realization that the one we're used to is toxic to us. We may be ready to embrace any option that will stop poisoning us, even if we aren't sure it will work. We may be ready to risk the farm (just before the bank forecloses.)

Obama asked this question: "Are you really ready for change?" I thought it was a powerful point in his Texas stump speech, a reality check -- his use of the word "really" was sobering. This entire election year will be an answer to that question. And it's one that we need to ask ourselves, as well.
Faced with the possibilities, our little petri dish of national consciousness has already begun to grow fuzz. The recent eclipse in Virgo/Pisces reflects the complexity of this notion of change, coming on the heels of the Aquarius/Leo eclipse that set the agenda for our window of experience last month. Earth, air, fire and water -- practicality, intellect, enthusiasm and emotions. The conflict of the moment is defined by enthusiasm vs. practicality, of emotions vs. intellect. Yet we have all the ingredients to make our decision, an energetic whole. Change is not easy -- do we want it? Change is here -- can we stop it, even if we try?
As improbable as it seems, there are many trying to pull an e-brake on change. The entire Republican party stands for 'as is' politics, despite the fact that the nation is at a critical juncture and demands an infusion of new ideas. They are pro-war and pro-corporate, which is of a whole cloth given the astronomical corporate profits of warring. Their likely candidate, John McCain, offers the nation another four, perhaps eight, years like the ones we've just lived through. Mac is the old paradigm candidate -- and he's an elder, to boot; older than any other candidate in our history. John McCain is 71 years old -- Obama is 46, Clinton turned 60 last October. The generational shifts are apparent in these candidates -- the reality of that will slap us all when the two anointed stand on a stage together.
If we step back far enough, we will see that we're looking at 'old' vs. 'new.' The truism is that 'new' is rarely trusted until 'old' becomes so painful and outdated that we have no choice but to embrace it. Years ago, when I first joined Planet Waves in an attempt to interpret the 'smoke and mirrors' agenda of the Bush phenomenon, I remarked that authentic change would only come with a new idea that takes root in the imagination of the public and superimposes itself over the common wisdom of the times. Are we there yet? It feels like we are.
The elders are voting for McCain and Clinton, and they are a dependable voting demographic. But the youth is turning out in droves for Obama, adding a new dimension to the polls and politicizing the young folks in ways we haven't seen since Jack Kennedy captured our imagination. The United States demographic indicates that 45% of children under five years of age are minority -- at that rate, they won't be minority long. Our long years of national privilege have made us complacent, but those coming up are hungry, literally and figuratively, for their turn and they are hope-full. Hillary tells them what she will provide for them, the 'top down' model -- Barack asks them to help him accomplish change, the 'bottom up' model. The nomination hangs on the model we embrace.
Hope. It's a human need.  It crosses all economic and sociological barriers. To a nation that has felt itself hopeless for too long, it's something of a miracle, a B12 shot, an aphrodisiac. We're almost afraid to grab it, since we've been conditioned, Pavlovian style, to mistrust. So for those who think it empty and toothless, I completely understand, and my skepticism is based less on the last seven years of 'reality' than on the fact that both Democratic candidates are members of the Washington establishment to one degree or another, and old habits die hard, no matter what the voters demand. But both of these people, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have been pushed by their base, and the Edwards Democrats, to a populism that they might not have intended. They've been forced to address the concerns of the people who have awakened from their stupor after years of Bush policy. They've been surprised by the willingness of the public to go even farther in their political demands than they, themselves, had anticipated. They are, in fact, growing into their rhetoric. Change is the game and they are the change agents. We insist!
No matter what else Obama brings to the table, he asks the question of this new era. Are you REALLY ready for change? I hope so -- I hope the candidates are too, because it's here. Read any paper today to find examples of how political realities impact your household -- realize how many changes have to occur before you can breath easily again, before our government stops being a threat to us and to the world at large. Without an audacious amount of hope, vision, enthusiasm, courage, self-discipline and concern for one another we cannot navigate the birth canal that's taking us into a new way of perceiving ourselves. Our baby steps are taking us farther and faster into the void, where nothing is clear but the intention of our vision. That's the signature of this new energy, we're leaving the signposts behind, we're proceeding without an owner's manual. The politicians may be the catalyst to begin this leg of the journey but we are the ones who must finish it.
We must be prepared to keep that vision no matter what happens in the political arena, prod our leaders into accomplishing this thing that's moved our hearts to hope. When a cage door swings open, sunshine floods in; we're rubbing our eyes and asking if it's real. It will be if we make it so -- we must take the first steps into the light. Imagine defining your own life without the myriad limitations imposed by the socioeconomic standards set by government, imagine expecting national leadership to serve the commonwealth and not itself, imagine leaving a legacy of real democracy and choice to our future generations and the world -- imagine peace. Audacious? Oh, yes -- hope is the language of the heart.
I don't know if Mr. Obama will get the nomination, although it looks likely -- or perhaps Mrs. Clinton will make a last stand in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania that turns this tide. As well, I don't know what either would accomplish in office. But it will remain true, no matter how this shakes out, that the lanky Jr. Senator from Illinois has given us a remarkable gift, something that few of us realized we'd been living without; he helped us remember how it feels to hope. May it infect the world!

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