Monday, December 31, 2007

Michelle Obama: We Suffer a Deficit of Empathy

I have seen a lot of political speeches from a lot of different candidate on both sides of the political spectrum this year. This afternoon, I heard the best one of them all when Michelle Obama spoke at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.

Michelle began saying that throughout her travels around the country she has noticed that, despite all the talk about what divides our nation, our nation is really close to being united behind common values. She said she is out campaigning, not necessarily because of her husband, but because of her two young girls and what their future will look like. The country today is disconnected, isolated, and full of cynicism. This is caused by our nation being guided by fear. We have become a nation afraid of everyone and everything. Fear is clouding our judgement and cuts off people from their communities and the rest of the world. Our children inherit this fear.

Children in a world driven by fear become doubters, are hesitant, are insulate, and timid.
She then discussed her upbringing on the south side of Chicago and that she sees herself as a regular person from a working class background. She said there is nothing miraculous about her upbringing. Her parents raised her and her brother on a single city worker's salary. She said she and her brother are byproducts of the Chicago Public School System.
I want people to know that, so when they look at me that they see what an investment in public education can actually do.
As a public school teacher, that line really hit home. I suddenly began to think about what the students in my 2nd grade class will be doing in 20 and 30 years. If these students aren't able to make a better living than their parents then there is no hope. Michelle and Barack Obama give me hope, and these kids hope, that when they grow up they might just be able to become something big.

Michelle went on to say that she went on to Princeton and Harvard Law and that story nearly impossible today because of the difficulties families face today. She said that most Americans don't want much, except to know that if they work hard that they can get ahead and have a better life for their children.

She discussed the lose of blue collar jobs, "NCLB sucking the life out of education", the rise of college debt, and rising health care costs.
We are not a nation in debt because we are frivolous and greedy. It's because people got sick... and had to use the credit card to cover medical costs.
Despite all of these concerns, we are a wealthy nation with many resources and plenty of policy and plans.
We are suffering as a nation because we suffer a deficit of empathy.
She said we are not looking after each other anymore and our democracy is suffering because of it. We are living in our own little boxes, isolated from our neighbors and communities. We are told by our leaders to not worry and not asked to compromise and sacrifice for one another. To overcome this, we need leadership that can inspire the nation, and Barack Obama is the only candidate that can do this.

She then compared Barack's background to her background, mentioning Barack travelling around the world and experiencing other cultures when he was younger. She said his mom and grandparents sacrificed, work hard, and learned common sense values just like her family did.

Barack used these values when he passed up a job on Wall St. and chose to work as a community organizer. He then went to Harvard Law and passed up millions to work as a constitutional law professor and civil rights lawyer. Then he went to the Illinois State Senate where he rose above the dirty Illinois/Chicago style politics and passed ethics reform.

She said there is no better example of the judgement her husband possesses than the War in Iraq. People say Barack doesn't have the experience in Washington, but all of the candidates with experience in Washington got it wrong. All of the Washington politicians followed our leaders when their judgement was clouded by fear.

Michelle closed her speech by asking us to dream because if she and Barack didn't dream growing up then they wouldn't be in the place they are today.

The crowd gave Michelle a standing ovation and Michelle went to shake hands. As I looked around, I saw a couple people sitting behind me wiping away tears. Everyone I talked to that was there was amazed by the speech. Even a few said that Michelle should be the one running. Not this time around, but maybe in 2016.

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