So four years ago today, on January 8, 2008, Barack Obama lost the New Hampshire primary and I took to my bed in tears, decrying the unfairness of it all. I was still stinging from Howard Dean’s defeat in 2004—I worked for his campaign in NH—and it felt like, oh no: here we go again.
And then, that night, Obama gave this speech. The one where he introduced the idea that would become the lynchpin of his campaign: Yes We Can.
This is the speech that affected me the most, that convinced me that, without a doubt, Obama should be—and would be—the next President. It’s a speech that comes from defeat, from setback, and yet it’s the most forward-looking—and realistic—take on what this nation is capable of. Obama’s rhetoric, his campaign, his candidacy, convinced me that *I* had something to contribute to this country, damn it, and I better as hell figure out what that was. Is. Will be.
I’m a pretty cynical person. But on a good day, I think of myself as a cynical idealist. I suppose you could say that I’ve shaped my hard cynical shell to hide the hope and optimism that’s there, dug really deep within me.
Despite all of the weird shit going on in the world—that’s omnipresent in the world, I’d argue—President Obama still gives me hope. No, that’s not it—he doesn’t give me anything. At his best, he simply reminds me of what’s already there, of the hope I carry around like a concealed weapon, a force of possibility and change.
And his actions, his rhetoric poke at me and say: hey. Do something with it. It’s there. And nobody can use it but you.
So, chop chop. Get to it.
Four years ago, I was on the verge of finishing a Master’s degree. Four years later, I’ve finished that one, completed another, and completed my first semester in a PhD program. I’ve changed more in the past four years—for the better, I think—than I have in a long time. I quit pretending that I wanted to make it in the business world and started teaching. Found out that I love it, and that knowledge has booted me onto the path I’m on now, one that makes me happy—which still feels weird to say, to read, to feel, but there it is. Maybe most importantly: I’m a writer, now, and I can say that and believe it without flinching.
No, Obama did not make me the person I am but his example—the one that began with his speech on January 8, 2008—kicked me in the shins and told me that hope alone wasn’t enough, that I couldn’t wait around for someone else to change things, be it in my life or on some larger scale–that it was up to me. Which was liberating and terrifying. Awesome and really fucking weird. Still is, in fact.
So, four years on, I think: yes we can. Yes we did. And yes we will, be it personally or in our communities or on the federal level. Because we must. And, despite everything, despite every soul-sucking and dispiriting GOP debate I’ve sat through in the past nine months, I still believe that, when the chips are down, most Americans, hell most people, will do what they must to care for their sisters and brothers, for their fellow humans.
In the closing days of Dean’s campaign in NH, his slogan was Hope Not Fear. And I think that’s where I am, at the core. Leaning towards hope. Moving away from fear.
Idealistic cynic, over and out.