07/24/2008 08:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Obama Matters

The presidential candidacy of Barack Obama is significant, certainly, from a historical perspective: a prominent mixed-race candidate in a polyglot country that prides itself on its melting-pot self image, while talking loudly over its racist bass chords. That it took so long is the real head-shaker. TV's 24 had to bring the concept of a powerful African-American president to us before we could process it in real life. What does that say about us?

That aside, Obama's most inspired moment was explaining how this presidential race would not be about race, that we are ready as a nation to move beyond race issues. A call to our better selves, if ever I heard one. For that I heartily applaud him.

But his is a candidacy still connected to and influenced by the establishment. Whatever their purposes were for allowing his voice to be heard -- instead of sweeping him off stage as they did Edwards or the true voice for change, Kucinich, whose policies resonated with Americans repeatedly at the top of poll after poll -- they have let Obama have the microphone.

The real significance of his candidacy is that through that microphone, his charisma and message ignited something in this country -- his call for change has ignited a fire that transcends him.

I personally have little faith in a candidate who can squirm his way into advocating destroying the fourth amendment by supporting immunity for illegal spying in the most recent FISA bill, or declare in front of AIPAC that Iran is the greatest threat to the Middle East in the face of all the similar lies spewed in the service of creating the Iraq war.

I have little faith that he is not corrupted by the corrupting powers infiltrating our government.

But that is not the importance of his candidacy.

He has ignited a flame of change -- a fire of seeing come to pass in our lifetime a government aligned with the country's own higher principles. It is the fire of not simply wanting justice, but deserving justice.

Obama has awakened the flame of actual righteousness in his supporters -- not the judgmental righteousness of religious dogma, but the ethical righteousness of a supposedly free people. The righteousness that demands fair treatment, honesty, respect. The righteousness that requires nothing less than the whole truth.

That flame was already smoldering in those he spoke to on the campaign trail, waiting for a breeze to ignite it. Obama's public acknowledgment emptied oxygen onto starved embers. Through his charisma, he has given a nearly stamped-out idea a blessing of greater forces, and that is all it took for millions to turn up the tiny pilot light within themselves to reach the boil.

Now that gathering fire has a life of its own -- the flame has caught hold, established its footing, the winds are taking it.

From all signs, Obama is not yet in full appreciation of this phenomenon.

A fire greater than him, born out of the communal recognition of our own stake, our own ownership of the rudder of this ship, looks about to consume the election. The heat of the forces he has awakened may yet sweep through, clearing away the detritus of the entrenched-interest dead political underbrush we've had to slog through in election after election and endure year after year.

This fire may overrun Obama. Change -- real, actual, purifying change -- is the mantra of this election.

The fire makes the way for Obama, not the other way around.

He may begin to respect and heed the fire, for the flame sparks deep within himself too, otherwise he could not have ignited it in others. What will the entrenched interests, counting on his cooperation, do then?

Ultimately, no matter what the established interests may attempt, no matter what the media may try and force feed us, no matter even what may transpire with Obama, the fire is burning. It is a big one. It will not be contained, it will not be put out. It will leap over any barricade and ignite the next hill. This blaze is the story of this election.