12/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Reclaiming America's Leadership Role: Barack Obama and Democratic Culture

The reason for the sudden political ascendancy of Barack Obama, accompanied as it has been by the awakening of unprecedented social, political and cultural sentiments, not only in America but also in the world as a whole, has been the source of much speculation.

We have seen those who would attribute these unanticipated developments entirely to Barack Obama's 'celebrity' status, which is as much to say they simply emerged out of thin air with no reference whatsoever to his substantive message for change. Others would argue that these developments have everything to do with the fact Barack Obama speaks slowly, thus almost hypnotically convincing his unsuspecting audiences of his significance. Others still would have us imagine these developments are the consequence of political sensitivities in America that would preclude an African-American candidate being subjected to the same degree of scrutiny to which a non-minority candidate would. This last theory is an especially curious one in light of the fact that the singular objective of the aggressive smear-campaign being conducted against Barack Obama has been to create fears about his 'differentness.' Fortunately, at this high noon moment in American politics, truth is not blinking.

No, I would not be inclined to attribute the awakening of such unprecedented social, political and cultural sentiments in America and the world to any of the above 'accounts.' What I am led to see, rather, is the fact of a deep resonance between the destiny of an individual and the destiny of a culture. What I am led to see is a resonance between the place at which Barack Obama has arrived by way of the unfoldment of his personal destiny and the place at which America and democratic culture have arrived by way of the unfoldment of a collective destiny. Barack Obama, we could just say, has awakened unprecedented social, political and cultural sentiments within America and the world because the change of which he speaks affords democratic culture unprecedented access to the next chapter of its unfolding destiny.

Today in the wake of the post-9/11 period, the false premise of a leadership that would place unmitigated power above dialogue and process, that would be so cynical and malicious as to substitute the contrived in the form of false absolutes and false certainties for the authentically meaningful and real, that would imagine that exclusive 'solutions' rather than inclusive solutions would lead to sustainable national and international solutions, has most certainly been exhausted. The way of power has lost its glory. The world calls out for a new beginning. Democratic culture seeks access to the next chapter of its unfolding destiny.

Power corrupts because it licenses those in positions of leadership to unreflectively, unilaterally and thus arbitrarily impose their will on others. Antithetical to the way of power and the hallmark of a leadership commensurate with the consciousness demands of the political realities of this age, as I noted yesterday in commenting on a posting by Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, is the orientation to inclusivity and process, which is to say, the equanimity to see and gather to oneself problems in their actuality and complexity, the wisdom and openness to obtain informed counsel, and finally the willingness to sit down with all parties concerned to achieve by way of direct negotiation productive and sustainable outcomes. Barack Obama has not only written about such leadership, but in the form of the 'how' he has conducted himself in his passage through the extraordinary ordeal of an American presidential campaign, Barack Obama has embodied it.