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Politics as Transcendence

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Only once in a very long time does politics become more than politics, that is something more than partisan struggle, vote bartering, or arena of ambition. In ordinary times, ordinary political leaders suffice, more or less.

But on rare occasion, old arrangements and conventional wisdom come unstuck. This happens in periods of rapid if not revolutionary change. We find ourselves now in one of those periods. The forces of globalization, information, eroding sovereignties, and transformation of war ensure that traditional leaders and conventional politics can only muddle through at best and fail badly at worst.

But periods of upheaval also offer opportunities, opportunities to change our methods, our ideas, and our leaders. The rare leader capable of transforming threat to opportunity is one who welcomes transformation and sees it as a chance to abandon tradition and convention, to transcend that which is stale, unprofitable, and ineffective.

Periods of transformation require experimentation, innovation, and daring. America is a nation much more conservative than it thinks itself to be. Thus, its default position is to resist a forward leap even while applauding itself for its creativity. Al Capone said it best: "We don't want no trouble." But transformation is trouble in the best sense of the word, trouble that causes us to adapt to new conditions and circumstances and create new ways of governing.

Through some miracle of timing, luck, and good fortune Barack Obama has seized the moment. His mantra of "change" has been largely co-opted by lesser figures. He is in fact an agent of transformation. He is not operating on the same plane as ordinary politicians, and this makes him seem elusive to the conventional press and the traditional politicians. His instinct for the moment and the times is orders of magnitude more powerful than the experience claimed by others. Experience in the old ways is irrelevant experience.

In an age of great transformation, experience of the past is worthless because it is a barrier to the breakthrough gesture, the instant response in crisis, the instinctive bold decision in the face of totally new circumstances.

Some see Barack Obama as the long awaited champion finally come to slay the awful dragon of race. And they are right. Some see him as a new start for the Democratic Party and national politics. And they are right. Some see him as the walking embodiment of internationalism, ready to restore an honorable and respected place for America in the world. And they are right.

I see Barack Obama as a leader for this transcendent moment, the agent of transformation in an age of revolution, as a figure uniquely qualified to open the door to the 21st century and to convert threat to great new opportunity.