O My Prophetic Soul Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, Scene 5, Act I
Words are all I have. As a British citizen I cannot vote in this election. I cannot phone canvass. I cannot donate. All I have are words. But after this amazing campaign and all the words we’ve all expended, I just want to release two more crucial words into the blogosphere: thank you.
Thank you for the flames and mojos, criticisms and kudos: thank you for the fail pictures and the poll analysis, for the LOLZ cats and live blogging threads. But above all thank you for your tolerating me here. As a foreigner in these virtual forums I’ve experienced the best of American hospitality, just as my son has experienced it during the last few days in Pennsylvania, organising, canvassing, getting out the vote.
Thank you. These are just words. But I cannot vote or donate. Words are all I have.
Words were all I had four years ago when I first became actively engaged in your debates. I had my reasons for being so caught up in the last election, but I was mainly a lurker. But nearly exactly four years ago, on November the fourth 2004, just after the savage and dispiriting defeat, I wrote my first ever diary on a blog to thank Democrats, even in defeat, for providing such inspiration and passion and hard work.
On that terrible day in November 4th 2004, I also tried to write some words of consolation. I don’t know how much they helped. I drew analogies from the Labour Party’s three successive defeats and 18 years in the wilderness, to encourage you all to rebuild and regroup.
A few days ago I took a look at that diary for the first time in four years and I was stunned to find this:
Just Words – Faith, Hope and Charity
I’m not an American, so this isn’t really my role to help formulate these declarations, but I am a writer, and I suspect that you are struggling to find a new language to defeat the faith based rhetoric of Bush…
The Democrats will never win Utah, but they must find a way of (genuinely) engaging heart and head. This doesn’t mean cute photo opportunities or last minute appeals to the Catholic base, it has to do with believing that complex issues CAN be explained in clear language, and also not being afraid of passion in politics. Both Kennedy and Roosevelt managed to achieve this sense of engagement and moral clarity (without invoking religion). Barack Obama did it too with his great conference speech. He spoke about faith and God in an inclusive way. Like it or not America is a faith based society, and someone needs to take this on board, and use its missionary instincts for more democratic ends, rather than relinquishing moral values to the Christian Taliban.
Just words. Despite the Shakespeare quotation, I don’t claim to be prophetic. Many others were moved by Obama’s Convention Speech in 2004. Since then he’s said thousands maybe millions more words, and only a few have been awkward or disjointed. Only a few have been erroneous or not full of dignity, weight, policy and poise. America is a remarkable country for creating such a person. And more remarkable still for supporting him in such vast numbers.
American politics is sometimes vitiated by religion – especially in the last eight years – but some of your best leaders have appealed to faith and hope and love, our spiritual instincts. With Lincoln, Roosevelt, the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King you have created a kind of politics that transcends demographic calculations or policy prescription. These leaders were reasonable, but they also went beyond reason, to the irrational and inexplicable sense of hope and optimism and struggle and redemption. That power to move beyond partisan politics was the underlying subject of my first ever diary in 2004. And I feel now that, whatever happens when the ballots are counted, Obama is another leader of that tradition, and that he has already fulfilled some of my dream.
I’m not a believer myself, but my mother was, and her faith drove her to become a social worker, and to fight poverty, inequality and distress…
It seems to me this is the battle you’re engaged with, to recover this language of values and faith for the defence of freedom and social justice. You have to engage the republican right on its own ground, prove how venal, selfish, divisive – in other words – how unchristian it is!
So I have faith in the man, and more importantly faith in your faith in him and ability to do things because of it. And I am not alone.
At the End of the Red Earth Road
Millions around the globe are watching you now. They sense the same hope – that things can be different, that good people can succeed, that the world can be kinder, safer, fairer. It’s almost a childish hope. I really didn’t think I’d feel it again in my lifetime.
Now millions are watching you cast your votes. And I’m sure you don’t me to tell you the result if the world could vote.
Why do we care so much? Of course it’s the politics, the impact it will have on our lives when the world’s remaining superpower makes such a momentous decision. But it’s deeper than that. Roger Cohen, an expatriate Brit and wonderful journalist who covered Bosnia brilliantly for the New York Times, wrote one of the best editorials about this sense of faith and hope and love that isn’t bounded by any particular religion.
Nowhere else could a 47-year-old man, born, as he has written, of a father “black as pitch” and a mother “white as milk,” a generation distant from the mud shacks of western Kenya, raised for a time as Barry Soetoro (his stepfather’s family name) in Muslim Indonesia, then entrusted to his grandparents in Hawaii – nowhere else could this Barack Hussein Obama rise so far and so fast.
It’s for this sense of possibility, and not for grim-faced dread, that people look to America, which is why the Obama campaign has stirred such global passions.
Cohen, as a foreigner, articulates how the American Story is still so powerful, and how despite eight years of being buried, still has this chance to be reborn. That’s why the world is hanging in this election. With God or without god, we still have hope. We still have faith.
Cohen also talked about meeting Obama’s half sister Auma down the end of reddish earth road in western Kenya, and recounted what she’d said about the democratic nominee.
“He can be trusted to be in dialogue with the world.”
I know those red earth roads well. My sister in law is Kenyan and with help from my family and others she runs a orphanage for girls there. I know they are waiting for good news too.
Of all the leaders I’ve known in my lifetime, Obama has the capacity to reach out to people across classes, ethnicities and nations and inspire them, encourage them, make them believe again. From the far end of the earth, from Africa to Indonesia, from Hawaii to the Brandenburg Gate, we are watching, hoping, not quite able to believe the impossible is happening, and the dream of America could be reborn.
The world holds its breath.
In the meantime all I have is this words. Words of thanks. Words of encouragement. Words of praise. This is not a goodbye cruel world diary. I hope it will soon be an “O what a wonderful morning diary”.
But whatever happens, I hope to be in dialogue about these historic few days for years ahead.