Dear Senator Obama:
Do not give me hope, with all of its temporary glory and flowery promises. Give me action, swift and sustainable, that I, and millions like me, can rely on tomorrow.
Hope does not feed the hungry family. Hope does not provide a higher education for those in the lower classes. Hope does not lessen the burden on the backs of the middle class.
Do not give me hope where bread is needed. Do not speak to me of wings, but of steady, well-grounded roots. Show me the depth, the width, the breadth of the knowledge behind your impassioned rhetoric.
Show me how it is that you will stave off the worst of the recession we are now in, ease this country’s $9 trillion dollar debt, repair our infrastructure, get us out of war zone, rebuild our nation, educate our children, provide health insurance for all Americans, and make sure that we truly are living the promise of equal opportunity, and not merely paying lip service to the American Dream.
Do not speak to me of energizing the young. Do not attempt to play to the tender hearts of youthful optimism and wide-eyed wonder, and claim some great victory by way of their ready, innocent embrace.
Most of the young you speak of are not heads of families. They are not single parents, soldiers, or veterans. They have not experienced massive lay-offs, ransacked retirement accounts, rising interest rates, or ballooning mortgages. Most of them do not know what it feels like to not be able to afford daycare, or to send their child to a substandard school. Most of them do not have to worry about feeding their families, or taking care of their elderly parents. Most of them are in the prime of their health, and do not have to worry about the cost of aging and health insurance. They do not face the prospect of losing their homes over one medical crisis or lost job.
Do not say “Yes, We Can” when it is really about you. “We”, the people, can only write our letters and pleas, cheer for those we believe represent our interests, and vote.
“We” can only vote for the “you” that we think will best advocate for us.
“We” did not choose George W. Bush. We did not choose war in Iraq, 4000 deaths, Abu-Ghraib, torture policies, costly no-bid contracts, or the Patriot Act. We did not choose to alienate ourselves from other nations, or to break long-standing treaties, or to incur the largest debt in the history of the United States. We did not choose a government cloaked in secrecy, that would seek to leave the public in the dark and tamper with a free press. We did not pardon Scooter Libby.
“We” spoke up, we marched, we wrote thousands of impassioned pleas, but we seemed to be invisible to both our Congressional representatives and the President of the United States.
Really, this is about you. And our ability to trust you.
Would you see us when the stadiums are no longer full? Would you hear us when the thunder of applause fades?
“Don’t tell me words don’t matter,” Mr. Obama said, to applause. “ ‘I have a dream’ — just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ — just words? Just speeches?”
Well yes, Mr. Obama. Factually, they are just words. Beautiful, intelligent words, some from passionate and historical speeches, but yes, just words. Without the fervent call to change that had already swept through the collective consciousness of America, and without the power of politicians and lawmakers rallying in front of them, Dr. King’s bold and impassioned speech would have faded. All those beautiful, intelligent words would have been left to wither inside the fractured heart of idealism, and not been permanently carved, as they were, into the tablet of American jurisprudence.
I wonder, really, why you would dare to challenge our questions with inspirational words from yesterday — words that are not even your own. You called up the living ghost of an American legend as if you, Barack Obama, by way of some oratorical transmogrification, could work your way into King’s stature by stepping inside his lofty shadow.
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech after ten years as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, during which time he led a boycott, had his house bombed, formed groups, laid the groundwork for peaceful demonstrations, organized and led marches, wrote two books, and effected changes in law.
You are not Martin Luther King, Jr. You are a senator from Illinois with less than two years of national experience. Do not borrow words from a man larger and more well-known than yourself to refute the urgent call for substance. Unlike Dr. King, we the people do not know you by your deeds, Mr. Obama, but only by your words – which so far, outside of your quickly tiring slogan, have relied more on evangelistic adjectives than actionable verbs.
I do not wish to transcend beyond the problems of today. I wish to tackle them. I do not want mere hope from a Presidential candidate, I want one who has rolled up his sleeves, put his intelligence and knowledge to work, and drawn up detailed battle plans.
I do not want faith, especially the kind of starry-eyed, blind faith that cheers speeches over substance.
Inspiration may be found through words, but hope springs from action. Tell me about your plans. Tell me how you believe your experience qualifies you to lead a country. Tell me who will be visible and heard under your administration. Do not tell me how other people “can’t.” Do not attempt to derail other, more experienced politicians, while failing to lay down your own track. You, with all your apparent positivity, should not tell me that others cannot unite, or energize, or grow hope from the high-flying wings of words – you should, instead, tell me how all of those exalted qualities will result in the changes most Americans are desperate to see take place.
A well-written speech spoken in rhythmic cadence cannot buy a loaf of bread.
Inspiration will not avert a crisis.
Faith cannot pay a staggering debt.
Words alone cannot heal a nation.
Ideals were not meant to be spoken, but lived.
Show me, Mr. Obama, what’s behind the soaring oratory and the borrowed elegance. Tell me what qualifies you to lead a nation that has been thrown, bullied, and tricked into a whirlwind of crises. Tell me what you will do, by deed and not mere words, to heal the devastation of the last seven years.
Or simply continue to speak of hope, while rebuffing criticism with beautiful words of faith while calling up the legends of yesteryear.
And expect, then, that my vote will stay with Hillary Rodham Clinton.