content of character

5 November 2008

Oh sure, lots of people voted for Barack Obama because of the colour of his skin.  And lots of people voted for John McCain because of the colour of Barack Obama’s skin.  Just as lots of people based their vote on McCain being a republican, or Palin being an evangelical Christian, or Obama being young.  That’s because voters in both Canada and the US are pretty single-minded when we think about voting.  And in doing so, we respond to the product of the REAL creators of political dialogue – PR experts who develop campaigns around the things that appeal to us at the deepest of levels, such as greed and fear.   So we feed on the bones the campaign designers (PR experts) throw to us and vote without a lot of critical thought.  

Once upon a time politicians were gifted communicators – until television came along.  Many of us have no memory of politicians who actually inspire and galvanize and move people on the basis of communicative ability.  But I wonder, would we have a public health system in Canada today if it weren’t for Tommy Douglas’s gift of moving and inspiring people?  So what of today, where with the help of a deft speech writer, even the dullest pencil in the box has only to deliver a sound bite, and the media does the rest. 

But now suddenly Barack Obama comes along, with his sublime oratory ability, delivering his message with intelligence, grace and depth.  That message included his vision of bringing Americans together, not dividing “us and them.”  And still smarting from our own ugly election, when our own Canadian leader worked very hard to divide us based on the “us and them” strategy, that’s the thing that inspires me most of all.

When Obama was declared victorious last night, the burst of positive energy worldwide was palpable.  I’ve never seen anything like it since I was a child in the throes of “Trudeau-mania.”  It’s a historical and beautiful turning point in the history of African Americans in the US – that a black man with his black first family will reside and govern from that big white house that was built in part with the labour of African American slaves. 

The celebrations are about big changes in the US – and by proxy, big changes in the world.  Changes to politicking.  An election is won by a man who takes the high road.  A man who starts with his own message and sticks to it without resorting to ugly public relations tactics against his opponent.  A man who comes from outside the political elite; who starts from nothing and gets everything.  This is a grass roots movement as we’ve not seen in a long, long time. 

Best change of all?  Despite the best PR slogans designed to paint him in everything they are afraid of (socialist, muslim, intelligent), they judged him on the content of his character, and not the colour of his skin.

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