Every once in a while, a mighty wind blows.
The political sentiments now storming America in the form of support for Barack Obama are a mighty wind indeed. For those trying to say this is all just hot air, it's time to point out that so is a windstorm. And storms have a function, in nature and in us. They blow away everything not built on a firm foundation, and make room for a lot of new growth.
I'm a boomer, so I know this feeling. We have been here before. We knew what Bob Dylan meant when he sang, "Something's going on here, but you don't know what it is....Do you, Mr. Jones?" And something is going on again. What we're experiencing here is a new conversation -- something qualitatively different than the promises of effective problem-solving that pass for an excitement factor in his opponent's campaign.
Try to dismiss it though she might, someone who has the capacity to change a society's conversation has the capacity to change the society. From Bob Dylan to Gloria Steinem to John Lennon to Martin Luther King, Jr., people who use words to foster new thinking are the ones we see in retrospect to have opened doors to a better world. Hillary was right when she said Dr. King couldn't have passed Civil Rights legislation without Lyndon Johnson, but Johnson couldn't have done it without King, either. Johnson had the presidency, but King had the vision. Today we have the historic opportunity -- one that comes around only rarely -- to have president and visionary be the same person.
A great national leader does not speak just to circumstances; he arouses a nation's soul. The idea that Obama could not only arouse our soul but also handle our circumstances (has he not handled a pretty formidable circumstance already, giving her such a run for her money?) seems far more probable to me than that Hillary could not only handle our circumstances but also arouse our soul.
Jefferson. Lincoln. Roosevelt. Kennedy. Damn right, their words mattered. Try Googling "great speeches" and see what comes up. Great words and great speeches have changed the world because they have changed the way we see the world.
Washington-think is so old-fashioned, so treat-the-symptom-and-pretend-you-healed-the-disease, protect-the-status-quo type of stuff that millions gave up on it a long time ago as an agent of true social improvement. But while few of us are looking to the American government to save the world, we'd prefer that it not destroy it either. Obama was right when he said that we have to do more than just end the war in Iraq; we need to end the mindset that produced it.
At the end of World War II, in the last speech he ever wrote yet died before having a chance to deliver, President Franklin Roosevelt said, "We must do more than end war. We must end the beginnings of all war." The source of the debacle in Iraq was not an event; it was a mindset. The source of our environmental problems was not an event; it was a mindset. The source of every problem is the mindset that preceded it. And only someone who can speak to the source of a problem can eradicate its roots.
The ability to inspire new thinking is a more important ability in a leader today, than simply being a "problem-solver." We're always trying to solve something.... solve health care...solve the economy... solve social security, and so forth. Yet according to Carl Jung, our most important problems cannot be solved; they must be outgrown. Just figuring out who has a better plan with which to treat the symptoms of a problem is not the one who ultimately solves it. What we need is someone with a better state of mind, who will lead us to a better state of ours.
Being swept up in Obama's inspirational ability is not naïve; thinking inspirational ability doesn't count for much, is in fact naïve. For in the ability to inspire lies the ability to command the most powerful forces of all. No plan, no piece of legislation, no Washington strategy or political maneuvering will alone be enough to change the probability vector of America's future. For that, we will need a mighty wind. And a mighty wind now blows.