Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Missing the Point on Rhetoric

Another conversation with my friend DC challenging me to think more critically about my issues with Obama. At the end of the conversation, I'm even more befuddled, what is my problem with this campaign?

Then I read this editorial in the Financial Times and I thought -- maybe my frustration isn't so much with Obama as it is with the Americans who buy into empty messages. If the last election taught us anything, its that we need to put a critical eye on our candidates and not get caught in their hype.

The rebuttal in the paper this morning was smart and pointed -- making me feel, well, stupid. "Rachman misses the point," writes the contributor.

"Obama is appealing to voters who wish: first, to return to the traditional American land of hope from the present environment of fear; second to see a change from the traditional style of Washington-dominated politics; and third, to hold their heads up high as Americans when they travel abroad."

Huh. OK. I get that. So its not so much about actual tactical change at a policy level. Its about change within ourselves. Being hopeful. Not being afraid. If thats the case, my own hope would be that, if Obama is elected as the next President, that in this new paradigm of hope and change-- that the American people continue to be hopeful, set high standards, and hold their President accountable to these standards. Because even if we buy into a message of hope rather than fear, we still need see changes at the policy level to make that hope stick, to enable us to be proud to be Americans.

But OK... I get the message now.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

And the Deal is...

A friend and colleague was at the house yesterday. Together , we're working on the roll out of the Maine Women's Fund new economic security initiative together and while I'm on maternity leave we meet in the front room of my house, drink tea, and think great thoughts.

She was doting her new copy of "Pink" -- a magazine for professional women; she was so excited about the magazine, she was practically fawning over each page. I knew from the get go that I wasn't going to get a lender, so after she left, I checked it out on line.

As is my fancy I went straight to the blogs, where I read this from editor Cynthia Good:

It's easy to get bogged down by things like negotiating contracts, dealing with high-demand clients, answering two ringing telephones at once, replying to 320 e-mails a day and so on. Your employees' livelihoods (as well as your own house) are on the line. And the deal is – despite all the pressure, you aren't allowed to be a stressed-out b---h!

Wow. I know that feeling. Its not easy when the buck stops with you, and as much as I know I'm up to the challenge, that doesn't make it any easier on those lonely days when you know not to show fear, tension, stress, and anxiety. I suddenly felt overwelmng appreciation for the great leaders I've provoked, yelled at, and criticized all in the name high expectations. And I felt even more appreciation for those friends who have emerged as mentors and coaches. And finally, I was immensely grateful to work with colleagues with high EI and know when to ask: who can I best support you? Sigh... YOu guys rock!

OK. I'm done with my love fest.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Yellow lines and dead armadillos

Let me just say this -- I want change in the White House, and I'll be even more happy to herald change if it comes with the first female or the first African-American president. And I'd be more than ecstatic to welcome them both at the same time.

With that said... let me be Eli for second -- irrational, stubborn, and prone to gross generalizations.

I'm realizing lately that I have a VERY high disdain for unrealized leadership potential. Don't have it in you? That's fine. But if you have it in you and don't live up to it, that's bad. Very very bad. Second to this, I have a very low tolerance for inauthenticity.

Ask me my thoughts on Obama, and what you get is actual anger. Not fair really, since I don't know the guy and his stance on the issues is really no different than any other democratic candidate. At the root of my irritation is gay marriage. Like the other Dems, Obama is in the 'separate but equal camp' of supporting civil unions, but as a black man, I expect more from him. What's the point of diversity in the White House, if the diversity of experience doesn't yield a different platform? More to the point, I am not a justice chic and don't champion diversity because a marginalized group deserves it. I champion diversity because the myriad of experiences therein brings a myriad of new perspectives, which has inherent value for reflecting the many different perspectives in our country.

My friend DC tells me that Obama doesn't think the country is ready for a conversation about gay marriage. I thought about this for a while, and my response is: Well tough. The country really wasn't ready for a conversation about civil rights either -- it was tearing itself apart, burning cities, and destroying neighborhoods. But we had it anyway, and we are richer for it. But that's the thing about real change. Its hard and a lot of people will dislike you before you are done. Nobody, NOBODY, takes to real change without a fight.

One of my favorite mantras of all time comes from James Carville, speaking at my alma mater, responding to a question about why Bill Clinton couldn't be more middle of the road about some issue. Carville responded in his best southern drawl, "Son, there ain't nothing in the middle of the road but yellow lines and dead armadillos."

Obama is running on a platform of change. Leaders championing change need to be brave, they need to be bold, and they need to be OK with not being liked. Which is why I question whether any authentic leader championing change can run for a political office. In today's world, a political candidate needs to be liked by the masses and that means plenty of yellow lines and dead armadillos. It rarely means actual change.