Wind: 7 mph
We all wait in the restaurant, watching the glass doors to its outer lobby. Our names are on a list. Security, little curly wires in their ears, are everywhere: after all, the history of the 20th century was written -- by assassins.
What I first notice when he arrives to greet people is his posture
and gesture. His body language is...natural. No formal "decorum," no
"distance" from people. No false heartiness. Also: this man, just come
from the Senate Hearing Room, working all day on nonstop high-pressure
campaigning, appears fully alert. His eyes are clear, intelligent,
interested, his expression open to everyone he talks to.
He is actually energized by what he's been doing all day. Gathering up the microphone, comfortable, friendly, he greets us, "How y'all doin'?" and starts right in:
"I'm running for president because it's time for a change!" he begins. "And I'm asking for your help.... This is not just some black guy, funny name, big ears," he says. "Damage has been done.... We need to change a lot of things, and we need to do it with 'the fierce urgency of now.'"
He will restore Habeas Corpus, close Guantánamo, and get us out of Iraq by 2009, establish health care for all, repair this gargantuan deficit, and raise taxes -- not for everyone but for the rich (my group). He will run this government for all the people, not just the few: after all, his support comprises ordinary Americans writing small checks. Nothing from PACs or lobbyists. "They have not funded my campaign. They will not run my White House -- or we'd still be in the same place 20 years from now. That's not getting stuff done."
Speaking, he keeps turning, connecting to every person there easily, without artifice. In just a few minutes I could see what everyone in the restaurant could see: This man is the genuine article.
He shakes hands all around. When he reaches me I hold his hand and tell him, "I think you have the potential for greatness." He stops and looks hard at me. "Let's hope I can realize it." And I say, "You will." And he nods a little and moves on.
This dark time in our history. Seven years of government driven by ideology, not reality: slap-dash management that gave us the Patriot Act, the wrong war, a resurgent Taliban, an Al Qaeda reborn. What it did not give us: Osama bin Laden or significant progress in the real war against terrorism. And what it has done to America: erased the separation of church and state, destroyed much of our Constitution, left our nation without the structure of governance that had sustained it for 230 years. So our government can now spy on us, jail us without cause -- and, unthinkably, torture us! It has brought us close to Totalitarianism, neglected our environment, turned generous surplus into deep deficit, decimated our dollar and wrecked our economy, spread our armed forces thin, squandered our international standing and the credibility of our foreign policy -- while stripping us of our rights as Americans to the Liberty so many have fought and given their lives to preserve.
How has this happened? An unholy cabal of greed, power, fundamentalist religious extremists and a lawless president who does anything he wants and declares it legal -- have been creating and using "fear" and "faith" to manipulate the nation. We now have a government not of laws but of men. And we have simply --acquiesced. ("All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.")
Our darkest times have always produced our greatest leaders. Each time their words -- obviously genuine -- have given us hope, raised us all out of our parochial concerns and reminded us we are all in this together. One such leader who appeared when we needed him told us, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." Another assured us "...that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
A true leader can call us forth to something more than each of us. For that leader we can pull ourselves out of this muck created by an administration of inept men and women thinking only of themselves. Answering a nation's call, a true leader can make us believe in hope once again: "Hope is a belief in things not seen...that we can build a better America." A genuine leader who can direct our gaze upward, away from ourselves, who frankly and honestly tells us, "I can't do it alone. I need your help." Meeting him in a restaurant in Washington, seeing him face to face, I saw the potential for such greatness in this man Barack Obama.
Kalkstein lives in Fayston.